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Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Intro

I think this is a largely overlooked novel. I overlooked it myself. I attempted to read it back in college, but I got a little bored and greatly distracted as well. A couple of years later, I restarted.

And what was I thinking? Why did I wait years before I resumed my reading of this? Initially, I was not wowed by it. It was a book that I like and that I would recommend to a lot of people.

But whenever a bookish friend and I talk about the book and remember the lilting sentences, I decided that I love this book. And I should try shoving this book into the faces of people who love literature regardless of plot or setting or characters.

The Rhapsody

This is the journal of an old pastor named John Ames, who is attempting to encapsulate a lot of things through his writings before his time comes. He is doing it for his young son because he knows that the young one will grow with little memories of him.

The writing is very spiritual. Well, what could you expect from a pastor? But please be reminded that being spiritual does not mean being religious. Sure, there’s a lot of theology in it, but this is not the point at all. I say that this is what’s called effective characterization.

John Ames writes about his father and grandfather, about who they were and what they did as pastors. Yes, they are a family of such. His son might even turn out to be one, but I do not really think of it as a possibility.

He also talks about memories that involve his son. We see how much the narrator loves his son with the sort of memories that he writes for his son to read in the future. He writes about him wearing his favorite red shirt, he writes about that afternoon where he and his mom are teasing the cat, he writes about the numerous times he plays with his best friend, he writes about the beauty of his face when he was born in this world.

And he writes about this: that if he were to be married to a beautiful woman who would give him ten kids, he would leave them all on Christmas so that he could see his face and that of his mom’s. And that if he never saw him, he would comfort himself with a hope that is borne out from his heart.

Really, the journal that John Ames is writing is not strictly about memories. There’s a lot of talk in the book about random things, about events that were etched in John’s mind, and his feelings at the time of the writing. It’s more of having a deep and intimate conversation with someone than airing secrets that are supposed to be kept in the journal.

It would seem like a nonstop rant if the novel just went on and on like this. John Ames also talks to his son about his best friend Boughton, who is also a pastor, and his best friend’s prodigal son, named Jack Ames Boughton.

Both the John Ameses should be in good terms, right? Being namesakes is just that, having the same name. In fact, the pastor John Ames sort of distrusts John Ames Boughton. The latter, however, seeks him out to sort out his loneliness, and their last meeting gives us one of the most beautiful, tender, heartwarming endings that you could ever hope for.

5 star - it was amazingFinal Notes

Well, that’s not really how it ended. There’s still the falling action, which is not a literal action in this novel because the whole of it is supposed to be a journal.

Now, the journal style lends an air of intimacy. This makes the novel almost plotless. However, this does not mean that there’s no movement at all. It’s actually an interesting style because one gets a whole view of the narrator’s thinking, not just unreliable glimpses like those that you could get from an observer.

So do I prefer this or not? Well, I prefer the first person point of view. The journal is a different thing. But is there someone who is writing a journal in third person? Or a journal written for someone?

The latter question is dumb. It would not be a journal then. It would be a biography.

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Angus – I also had to make two attempts at this book. First, I tried to listen to it book-on-tape. It was unbearably dull that way and I think I made it through 30 minutes at most. I’m very grateful that I made the 2nd attempt. Maybe both of us just needed that first warm-up to get us into the mindset with which to approach it.

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    • Oh, the audiobook must sound lovely! What I really like about this novel is the multitude of beautiful passages. And yes, it’s good that we surpassed the second attempt. Kudos to us! :)

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  2. I finished this early this morning! And I just have to re-read the first half after I’m done because I was not really much into the novel until after half-way. And I’m glad I did! :)

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