Friday, January 09, 2009

Gilead - again

I'm reading Marilynne Robinson's Gilead again. I keep wanting to mark something on virtually every page; the book just seems full of quotable material. And it's not the clever laying out of words so much as wisdom. This is one of the few novels I've ever read that is wise.
Don't ask me how she does it; probably Robinson is no wiser a writer than many other great writers. But something in this book has brought out the wisdom in her, and it shows time and time again.
Probably quoting from it wouldn't work that well, because you need to have read what's gone before and to have felt the tone of the thing. The apparent meandering, conversational tone of the writing (an old man writing to his very young son) seems almost as if Robinson had sat down, from day to day, and just let the thing pour out. But I suspect it's far better constructed, and structured, than that. And the writing is frequently vivid. There's nothing 'casual' about the way this book is put together, even though on the surface that may seem to be the case.
I'm about half way through it again (I first read it in 2006, I think, when it was relatively new) and it moves me as much as it did the first time; maybe even more. I've just been reading it at a cafe and kept feeling emotional about one thing or another in it.
Perhaps it's the whole father/son thing that appeals to me particularly. Because of my own history I've always been a sucker for books that deal with that subject. Perhaps it's the fact that the main character is a good man; there are very few really good characters in fiction - or in life, if it comes to that. Perhaps it's the fact that in the last couple of months or so I've had more concerns about death and ill-health than I've needed to have in a long time. The main character in the book knows he's going to die fairly soon, which is why he's trying to lay out his life and history for his son. But he doesn't dwell on the dying; he's constantly talking about life, and creation, and joy and celebration and the extraordinary things that make up the day to day. Death comes into it, of course, but it isn't the focus.
As he says in a page (126 in my edition) I've just read again today:
I have not been writing to you for a day or two. I have passed some fairly difficult nights. Discomfort, a little trouble breathing. I have decided the two choices open to me are (1) to torment myself or (2) to trust the Lord. There is no earhtly solution to the problems that confront me. But I can add to my problems, as I believe I had done, by dwelling on them.
This speaks very strongly to me at the moment, when the discomfort I'm dealing with day to day tends either to get right in the way of things or be put to one side as something I will endure without great anxiety. Trusting in the Lord is an element of it, but not necessarily the easiest path to take.
Anyway, I'm sure I'll write more about this wonderful book as I go on.

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