Friday, May 15, 2015

Review of Lila by Marilynne Robinson

I recently finished, on Kindle, Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  It is the third in her series Home, Gilead, and Lila.  Unfortunately, I read Home quite a while ago and have not read Gilead, although I have it somewhere.  (I have an inordinate amount of books in several places, a fault.  So I am not entirely sure where my copy of Gilead is).

The first question is always, in this world of marketing, would I recommend it.  That depends.  Not to buy--there are few books I would recommend to buy at full price, and would say go to the library and check it out or borrow a friend's, or get it used from the behemoth of online books sellers (no plugs here, although of course I got mine from the behemoth.)

It also depends on (a) whether someone had read one of the previous books, (b) one is at least familiar with the Christian world view, (c) one is willing to think, and (d) one is okay with stream of consciousness writing.  I am not sure that is what it would be called, but it seemed so to me. 

There are no chapters; only at one point are there three asterisks to indicate some kind of a break.  No chapters means no easy places to stop, which is not a huge problem in an ebook, since it opens right back to the stopping point and there aren't pages in an ebook anyway.  But the lack of chapters does make it hard to keep up with a chronology.  There is one in the book, but it is written from Lila's point of view and she goes back and forth in time so much, at the drop of a hat, so to speak, that the story moves slowly.  Most of the story is in the backstory of her life before coming to Gilead and meeting and marrying John Ames, but we do not see it directly, only in her memories. 

As one reviewer called her, Lila is near-feral.  I think that is unfair, and shows that the person writing the review does not realize that some people do live outside the walls of polite society.  Lila is "stolen" as a toddler by "Doll," a mysterious character, who takes care of her, just barely, as they travel around in the '20s and '30s as migrant workers in the lower midwest (I think; Lila does not give dates and seems to have no consciousness of them; she only went to school for a year, and she doesn't mention states or towns until she is well into her own twenties and no longer with Doll.  Lila doesn't know her last name.  She is not feral, but she is a survivor in a hardscrabble life, even working in a cathouse for a while but more as a housekeeper than a prostitute, because she isn't nice to look at like the others. 

Eventually she makes her way to Gilead, meets Pastor John Ames, and that part of the story, matches the past story of her life, begins. But slowly.  What happens in the book happens slowly.  This will annoy many readers.  It did not me.  I liked the pacing of Lila, perhaps because it was a refuge in all the things going on in my own life.  And of course Robinson's prose is beautiful.  I will avoid spoilers here.

The brilliance of the book is that Robinson does a pretty convincing job of Lila's point of view and voice.  At times it seems effortless and artless; occasionally it lapses, but not to a detriment.   

In the end, Lila is about grace and love in their seeming randomness, their mysterious origins, their great power to transform.  Robinson writes and lectures on theology, notably Calvinism, and I have another of her books on that subject.  Calvinism is important in Lila, and forms the worldview background, so to speak, although Lila doesn't accept it. 

So, I recommend it for someone willing to put some effort into the reading and be reminded of the sovereign grace of God in a fictional mode.

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