Gilead: Book Review.

Gilead is not a book I would have chosen; I read it because it was the chosen book of the Journey Book Group. It is one of the joys of being in the group to discover books I would not otherwise select, prizewinning, as in this case, or not.

Written by Marilynne Robinson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 2005, Gilead is the fictional autobiography of the old, dying Reverend John Ames in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. It is written as a journal for his 7 year old son, by his second marriage,  who was born very late in the Revrend’s life.

John Ames is the pastor of the town, as was his father a pastor and his father before that, both very different men, one being a Christian pacifist and the other an abolitionist who “preached this town into the war”.  John had a brother, and there are echoes of the biblical story of the prodigal son in John’s relationship with his sibling.

Ames spent many lonely years after the death of his first wife in childbirth of his his daughter, who also did not survive. Many years later he married again; Lila a much younger bride who bore him the son he is writing for. Lila proposed to Ames, who perhaps would not have proposed to her, with the words, “you know, you should marry me”. Unlikely sounding though this is, it was perhaps one of the most romantic moments in the life of John Ames. It is also worth paying attention to Ames’ long friendship with Boughton, who names his first born boy, Jack, after him but with whom, as he grows to manhood, kindles an animosity in Ames.

Despite Ames failing health and knowledge of his demise, he is portrayed by Robinson as a sympathetic character, who writes his journal like a man at peace with himself.

Robinson manages to find a beauty in everyday situations and images and although I wouldn’t call the book wise, there are some lovely little snippets of wisdom tucked away in its pages.

“A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing
between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.”

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