Friday, April 14, 2006

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

What makes a good book? For me, there are two types of good books; ones that are strongly character driven and ones that are storyline driven. A good character driven novel, allows the reader to know and understand the characters, making them real people. The story is just a vehicle for the development of the characters. Zadie Smith’s recent novel “On Beauty” is a perfect example. Smith understands her characters make them three dimensional and in turn, you relate to them on a very personal level.

The storyline driven novel is where the characters are merely actors in telling a great story. The characters are there to help you understand what the writer is trying to convey, what the writer wants you to know and contemplate. Detail is the key in a storyline driven novel- heavy on detail and substance. John Banville’s “The Sea” or anything by Banville is an example of the storyline driving novel.

This brings us to this week’s review of Gilead. Gilead is that rare novel that is storyline and character driven. The narrator, John Ames, is an dying preacher who has lived almost all of his life in Gilead, Iowa. John Ames is writing a letter to his young son, to be read after his death. The novel is very heavy on scripture and examines it in such a delicate and wonderful way that the reader feels a connection to the character and his faith. The central to the theme of the book is, that of the prodigal son, fathers and sons both spiritual and mortal. In my opinion Jesus is the definition of the prodigal son. Another theme of the book is about understanding those that we should know best, loving despite faults and that a parent’s love can never be explained. This is probably the most beautifully written novel that I have read in long time. Heavy on detail without being five-hundred pages, and spiritual without preaching. “We are all actors and God is the audience” One word : Perfection.


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