Summary and book reviews of Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila by Marilynne Robinson X
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2015, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright

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About this Book

Book Summary

Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder.

Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church - the only available shelter from the rain - and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security.

Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand to mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. Despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life was laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to reconcile the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.

Revisiting the beloved characters and setting of Robinson's Pulitzer Prize–winning Gilead and Home, a National Book Award finalist, Lila is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence that is destined to become an American classic.

Excerpt
Lila

The child was just there on the stoop in the dark, hugging herself against the cold, all cried out and nearly sleeping. She couldn't holler anymore and they didn't hear her anyway, or they might and that would make things worse. Somebody had shouted, Shut that thing up or I'll do it! and then a woman grabbed her out from under the table by her arm and pushed her out onto the stoop and shut the door and the cats went under the house. They wouldn't let her near them anymore because she picked them up by their tails sometimes. Her arms were all over scratches, and the scratches stung. She had crawled under the house to find the cats, but even when she did catch one in her hands it struggled harder the harder she held on to it and it bit her, so she let it go. Why you keep pounding at the screen door? Nobody gonna want you around if you act like that. And then the door closed again, and after a while night came. The people inside fought themselves quiet, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel's opening paragraphs vividly capture the deprivations experienced by young Lila. How do these experiences affect her immersion in the culture of Gilead? As she reaches adulthood, what does Lila believe about the nature of life?

  2. How did your perception of Doll shift throughout the novel? What motivates her to rescue Lila? What do the two girls teach each other about loyalty and its limitations?

  3. Lila recalls the day she ventured into John Ames's candlelit church (echoing Ames's tender recollection of that scene, which was presented in Gilead). Doane had told Lila, "Churches just want your money," yet she needed refuge. What does Ames's church want from Lila?

  4. As she copies difficult passages from the Bible,...
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  • award image

    National Book Critics Circle Award
    2014

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In contrast to many novels, Lila is quiet and contemplative, deeply profound, filled with universal, ethical and philosophical questions about the nature of existence that thoughtful readers will relate to: why are we here, does life have meaning and purpose? I recommend it to thoughtful readers who like their novels deep and emotionally rich.   (Reviewed by Sharry Wright).

Full Review (927 words).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
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

The Atlantic
In Lila, her brilliant and deeply affecting new novel, even her description of sunlight in a St. Louis bordello holds a kind of heartbreak . . . Her characters surprise us with the depth and ceaseless wrinkling of their feelings.

Los Angeles Times
Gorgeous writing, an absolutely beautiful book . . . [a] profound and deeply rendered novel.

The Seattle Times
Lila, Marilynne Robinson's remarkable new novel, stands alone as a book to read and even read again. . . Robinson is a novelist of the first order.

Kirkus Reviews
Fans of Robinson will wish the book were longer and will surely look forward to the next.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.

Booklist
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 transfixes and transforms us.

Library Journal
Starred Review. While some readers may yearn for more action and structure, 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.

Reader Reviews

Diane S.

Lila
There is something about the character Lila that I connected to in a big way. How she came to Gilead and married to a preacher is a story that is both poignant and life confirming. She is such a diverse character, wise yet naïve, suspicious yet ...   Read More

Cloggie Downunder

moving and thought-provoking novel
“She saw him standing in the parlor with his beautiful old head bowed down on his beautiful old chest……….Praying looks just like grief. Like shame. Like regret” Lila is the fourth novel by prize-winning American author, Marilynne Robinson, and the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Child Abandonment Syndrome

Throughout the novel, Lila, the protagonist suffers a deep ongoing shame resulting from early childhood abuse and neglect. Although it is never articulated in the story, there is a name for this response: Child Abandonment Syndrome.

In a 2010 article published in a blog, "The Many Faces of Addiction," for Psychology Today, Claudia Black, M.S.W., Ph. D., states that children who live without the psychological or physical protection they need, internalize incredible fear. Without the physical conditions necessary to thrive— appropriate supervision, the provision of nutrition and meals, and/or adequate clothing, housing, heat or shelter—a child experiences abandonment. According to Black, living with repeated abandonment ...

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