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Lila: A Novel Paperback – October 6, 2015
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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“Writing in lovely, angular prose that has the high loneliness of an old bluegrass tune, Ms. Robinson has created a balladlike story . . . The novel is powerful and deeply affecting . . . Ms. Robinson renders [Lila's] tale with the stark poetry of Edward Hopper or Andrew Wyeth.” ―Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Lila is a book whose grandeur is found in its humility. That's what makes Gilead among the most memorable settings in American fiction . . . Gilead [is] a kind of mythic everyplace, a quintessential national setting where our country's complicated union with faith, in all its degrees of constancy and skepticism, is enacted.” ―Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“My message is simple. Even if you haven't found the two previous books to your taste, give Lila a try . . . what we get . . . is the highest fictional magic: a character who seems so real, it's hard to remember that she exists only in the page of this book . . . No writers can see life whole. There's too much of it, too many sides, to be comprehended by a single vision. But some books give us a sense of such wholeness, and they are precious for it. Lila is such a book.” ―John Wilson, Chicago Tribune
“Lila, Marilynne Robinson's remarkable new novel, stands alone as a book to read and even read again. It's both a multilayered love story and a perceptive look at how early depirvation causes lasting damage . . . Robinson is a novelist of the first order.” ―Ellen Heltzel, The Seattle Times
“Grade: A Emotionally and intellectually challenging, it's an exploration of faith in God, love, and whatever else it takes to survive.” ―Entertainment Weekly
“Gorgeous writing, an absolutely beautiful book . . . This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Robinson, a novelist who can make the most quotidian moments epic because of her ability to peel back the surfaces of ordinary lives . . . [a] profound and deeply rendered novel.” ―David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
“Ever since the publication of Robinson's thrilling first novel, Housekeeping, reviewers have been pointing out that, for an analyst of modern alienation, she is an unusual specimen: a devout Protestant, reared in Idaho. She now lives in Iowa City, where she teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and where, for years, she has been accustomed to interrupting her career as a novelist to produce essays on such matters as the truth of John Calvin's writings. But Robinson's Low Church allegiance has hugely benefitted her fiction . . . This is an unflinching book.” ―Joan Acocella, The New Yorker
“Marilynne Robinson tracks the movements of grace as if it were a wild animal, appearing for fleeting intervals and then disappearing past the range of vision, emerging again where we least expect to find it. Her novels are interested in what makes grace necessary at all--shame and its afterlife, loss and its residue, the limits and betrayals of intimacy. In Lila, her brilliant and deeply affecting new novel, even her description of sunlight in a St. Louis bordello holds a kind of heartbreak . . . Robinson's determination to shed light on . . . complexities--the solitude that endures inside intimacy, the sorrow that persists beside joy--marks her as one of those rare writers genuinely committed to contradiction as an abiding state of consciousness. Her characters surprise us with the depth and ceaseless wrinkling of their feelings.” ―Leslie Jamison, The Atlantic
“Radiant . . . As in Gilead and Home, Robinson steps away from the conventions of the realistic novel to deal with metaphysical abstractions, signaling by the formality of her language her adoption of another convention, by which characters inhabiting an almost Norman Rockwell-ish world . . . live and think on a spiritual plane . . . [Lila is] a mediation on morality and psychology, compelling in its frankness about its truly shocking subject: the damage to the human personality done by poverty, neglect and abandonment.” ―Diane Johnson, The New York Times Book Review
“In her new novel, Lila, Marilynne Robinson has written a deeply romantic love story embodied in the language and ideas of Calvinist doctrine. She really is not like any other writer. She really isn't . . . Robinson has created a small, rich and fearless body of work in which religion exists unashamedly, as does doubt, unashamedly.” ―Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books
“Robinson's genius is for making indistinguishable the highest ends of faith and fiction . . . The beauty of Robinson's prose suggests an author continually threading with spun platinum the world's finest needle.” ―Michelle Orange, Bookforum
“The protagonist of the stunning Lila is as lost a character as can be found in literature . . . Don't hesitate to read Lila . . . It's a novel that stands on its own and is surely one of the best of the year.” ―Holly Silva, St Louis Post-Dispatch
“Existence and 'all the great storms that rise in it' are at the heart of Marilynne Robinson's glorious new novel, Lila . . . Lila is--at once--powerful, profound, and positively radiant in its depiction of its namesake, a child reared by drifters who finds a kindred soul in 'a big, silvery old man,' the Rev. John Ames . . . Life, death, joy, fear, doubt, love, violence, kindness--all of this, and more, dwells in Lila, a book, I will venture, already for the ages, its protagonist engraved upon our souls.” ―Karen Brady, The Buffalo News
“Lila is a dark, powerful, uplifting, unforgettable novel. And Robinson's Gilead trilogy--Gilead, Home, and Lila--is a great achivement in American fiction.” ―Bryan Wooley, Dallas Morning News
“Starred Review This third of three novels set in the fictional plains town of Gilead, Iowa, is a masterpiece of prose in the service of the moral seriousness that distinguishes Robinson's work . . . Lila is a superb creation. Largely uneducated, almost feral, Lila has a thirst for stability and knowledge. As she yearns to forget the terrible memories and shame of her past, Lila is hesitant to reveal them to her loving new husband. The courtship of the couple--John Ames: tentative, shy, and awkward; Lila: naïve, suspicious, wary, full of dread--will endure as a classic set piece of character revelation, during which two achingly lonely people discover the comfort of marital love . . . Robinson carefully crafts this provocative and deeply meaningful spiritual search for the meaning of existence. What brings the couple together is a joyous appreciation of the beauty of the natural world and the possibility of grace.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Starred Review Robinson has created a tour de force, an unforgettably dynamic odyssey, a passionate and learned moral and spiritual inquiry, a paean to the earth, and a witty and transcendent love story--all within a refulgent and resounding novel so beautifully precise and cadenced it wholly tranfixes and transforms us.” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Starred Review This is a lovely and touching story that grapples with the universal question of how God can allow his children to suffer. Recommended for fans of Robinson as well as those who enjoyed Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, another exploration of pain and loneliness set against the backdrop of a small town.” ―Evelyn Beck, Library Journal
“Literary lioness Robinson--she's won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award, among other laurels--continues the soaring run of novels with loosely connected story lines and deep religious currents that she launched a decade ago, almost a quarter century after her acclaimed fiction debut, Housekeeping . . . Lila's journey--its darker passages illuminated by Robinson's ability to write about love and the natural world with grit and graceful reverence--will mesmerize both longtime Robinson devotees and those coming to her work for the first time.” ―Elle
About the Author
Marilynne Robinson is the author of the novels Home, Gilead (winner of the Pulitzer Prize), and Housekeeping, and four books of nonfiction, When I Was a Child I Read Books, Mother Country, The Death of Adam, and Absence of Mind. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
Top customer reviews
Ultimately, Robinson might be my favorite writer. I do not have a religious bone in my body, but I find myself returning to Gilead again and again just to read Reverend Ames' thoughts on the world. And Robinson is also such an understanding, empathetic writer. In Home, Jack Boughton's struggles with religion and predestination shape the novel, but she refuses to condemn him for his atheism. Lila is a third piece to that puzzle about a woman uneasy with religion but read to engage with the questions it raises.
So yeah...these three novels have deeply affected me. The prose in Lila is as beautiful as her three earlier novels, and at points, possibly even more beautiful. Lila's torment gives Robinson the chance to do things with languages few people in the history of writing have been able to do. I recommend it highly.
One of the high points for me, a reader who counts Gilead as one of her top five books of all time, was the return of the good Reverend Ames. This thoughtful, open-minded, generous man sees Lila as a gift, not only for her companionship but as a window into another dimension of human life and spirituality. Because while Lila is only a few degrees removed from feral, she is bright and curious, and her perspective is riveting if bleak. Indeed, her intellect causes her intense pain, hungering as she does for understanding about life on earth and her place in it - as don't we all. In this, as with Ames' tortured acceptance of his own mortality and that of his friend Boughton, the book touches universal chords.
This story primarily consists of internal monologue, and much of it is oblique, so if you are not drawn to that kind of writing, this may not be for you. I love introspection, but still, I veered between feeling gratified and frustrated as I read this beautiful book. Ultimately, I know I will have to read it again, probably more than once, in order to do it justice. I'm not sure I'm smart enough for this deep a book, but like Lila, I'm smart enough to sense there's more to it than I can see from where I'm standing.
The book, on one level, contains an archetypal human story: A man and a woman meet, learn to love, marry, and bear a child. Lila meets Ames, marries, and becomes pregnant early in the book, while the birth of her child comes close to the end. In between those pages come flashbacks to Lila's desperate childhood and youth, before she meets Ames. These stories, mostly in the Lila's voice, reveal her profound intellect, powers of observation, survival skills, and essential compassion for her fellow sufferers.
But the book is more than a story. It is a beautiful poem, with stanzas of language that made me gasp and underline. Robinson plays with time, punctuation, rhythm, voice, like some amazing jazz riff on the instrument of English. She weaves her narrator back and forth among the inner voices of the characters. The whole thing hangs by a thread from sheer madness in places, and this is just exactly right for the story.
Objects in this book also become vivid characters. There is the scarf and its many transformations: wrapped around Lila by Doll when she is rescued as a child, draped around Lila as a sweater by Ames, unwrapped in the end by Lila from her own brand new child, to reveal him bare against her breast, alive. And there is Lila's knife, everywhere in the book: "That knife was the difference between her and anybody else in the world."
As the book proceeds, the Ames-Lila relationship becomes more and more imaginable. They both PAY ATTENTION, give away their coats to cover strangers, and feel WONDER over the meaning of existence. That's a lot to have in common, and they confirm this - both of them - as the book progresses to its exquisite end.
It had been a long time since I have cried deeply over a work of art, and as Robinson (Lila) says, "You always seem to need to touch the place it might hurt to touch. And not just once, either." The hurt of this book is healing. Ames would probably call this grace. As a non-believer, I will borrow from Ames: " I don't think there's a name for it."