Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

What can I say about Marilynne Robinson's Lila except that I love her writing style so very much. Beth Kephart wrote about what is meant by beautiful writing in her blog post about Lila last month. Kephart herself is no slouch in the writing department, and I encourage you to read her thoughtful words.

Following are just a few excerpts from Lila that capture the distinctive voice of the main character and the philosophical nature of the prose.

"The days came and went on their own, without any praying about it. And still, everywhere, meetings and revivals, people seeing the light. Finding comfort where there was no comfort, just an old man saying something he'd said so many times he probably didn't hear it himself. It was about the meaning of existence, he said. All right. She knew a little bit about existence. That was pretty well the only thing she knew about, and she had learned the word for it from him. [...] The evening and the morning, sleeping and waking. Hunger and loneliness and weariness and still wanting more of it. Existence. Why do I bother? He couldn't tell her that, either."

"Plenty of times he was called away to do what he could where comforting was needed. The last time it happened he came in the door after midnight, grumbling to himself. He said, 'Asking a man to apologize on his deathbed for the abject and total disappointment he was in life! that does beat all." He took off his hat. 'So I took them aside, the family. And I said, If you're not Christian people, than what am I doing here? And if you are, you'd better start acting like it. Words to that effect.'"

"The old man always said we should attend to the things we have some hope of understanding, and eternity isn't one of them. Well, this world isn't one either."

It is rare for me to read a novel with all-out positive portrayals of Christian religious figures, and I appreciated that very much. Yet I, a former Catholic and now non-Christian, also felt a strong negative reaction to the story's Christian underpinnings.

"There was no way to abandon guilt, no decent way to disown it. All the tangles and knots of bitterness and desperation and fear had to be pitied. No, better, grace had to fall over them."

The section quoted above is an example of what troubled me. The whole issue of guilt, of original sin. Of whether or not it is necessary to be absolved by a higher power. We had a great discussion about this at my book group meeting last month. I adore a novel that can engage me so fully, as this one has. And Lila is a character that will remain close to my heart.

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