This was an exciting week for book lovers, as Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel, Lila, was released to much acclaim – even from people who weren’t huge fans of her previous novels: the National Book Award-winning Housekeeping or the Pulitzer-winning Gilead and its follow-up, Home.
In the New Statesman, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote about Robinson’s fiction, and how it is not just a collection of stories set in Christian America but a political and ethical project:
There have been some accounts of these novels that might lead you to imagine that Robinson is constructing an idyll of unfallen rural America, a celebration of small-town values, community loyalties and simple faith. Because she has identified herself as not only a Christian but a Calvinist of sorts, many have assumed that she will line up with a conservative religious agenda and an appeal for a return to frontier virtues. In fact, her political record (including eloquent support for Obamacare) has made her a deeply controversial figure for the religious right. And this novel ought to dispel any such myths for good. The earlier novels actually provide a sharp indictment of the way in which the comfortable society of the town has forgotten its own history – its record in the conflicts around the civil war as a bastion of the Union and a safe refuge for runaway slaves.
The understated but pervasive racism of the 1950s is all the more effectively evoked by being highlighted in the benign figure of old Boughton, Ames’s best friend. Ames himself, in Gilead, comes to see this with unwelcome clarity and to wonder whether the town is under a curse, the curse of no longer being able to hear the question posed to its “goodness” by rebellious and critical voices such as Boughton’s son with his African-American wife. And Glory Boughton in Home reflects, in the same vein, on the “curse of sameness” that afflicts her own life and that of her community.