Gilead

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson Being a devout agnostic verging on atheism, I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. That's because it's told in the voice of an aging Christian preacher in the Iowa of the 1950s. But there were several things that appealed to me: for one thing, the narrator, John Ames, is almost startlingly humane and his dogmatism is not aggressive. There are moments of self-revelation and recognition, and in some ways even more endearingly, there are moments where we see truths about him that the old man does not. So it's a layered, complex narrative voice, which is a fine thing. Then, too, Robinson has strong control over her thematic range: this is a book about fathers and sons, about disappointment, judgment and forgiveness. Though it seems to ramble all over the place, as an old man's letter to his seven-year-old son should do, there's little here that doesn't end up illuminating those themes. Certainly the major revelation (for this is a book of revelations of the past, rather than of plot) is all about a prodigal son (the godson of John Ames, and son of his best friend), who after some very dastardly behaviour in his youth, comes back changed and with a secret, which eventually turns out to be a marriage and family that cannot exist in the racist South (racist in both directions, let it be pointed out). There are also three generations of preachers (at least), fathers and sons, in Ames' family, all radically different, and all in some ways disappointing to the others. Ames' grandfather was a fiery, vision-driven abolitionist, and the depictions of him, half-impressive, half-ludicrous, stay in the mind. Anyway, not at all sorry I picked this up; very much recommended.