Customer Reviews for

Gilead

Average Rating 3.5
( 109 )
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(44)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

One of my favorite books ever!

A few years ago, I bought a used copy of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 and I aim to read most - if not all - Pulitzer Prize Fiction winners through the ages. However, I was in no hurry to read Gilead based on its synop...
A few years ago, I bought a used copy of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 and I aim to read most - if not all - Pulitzer Prize Fiction winners through the ages. However, I was in no hurry to read Gilead based on its synopsis. The combination of a seventy-something protagonist, an obscure town setting, and a religious theme just didn't sound like the page-turning story that I confess I'm always looking to read. Eventually, I had the good sense (or dumb luck) to pack Gilead alongside several other books for a solo vacation a couple of years ago.

I love when my negative assumptions are completely upended, and the object of my assumption is revealed in beautiful truth. That's exactly what happened with Gilead. What I thought would be a boring novel turned out to be a profoundly transforming one.

The story is narrated by minister John Ames, who is seventy-six and dying. As a gift to his seven year-old son, John shares his meditations on life, love, family, friendship and forgiveness. He describes three generations of Ames men, the misunderstandings between them, their love. Whether John is pondering a moment or a lifetime, he is never far from its spiritual significance. Those soulful musings - rather than coming off as preachy or unwelcome or scriptural - are delivered gently, simply. The prose is spare yet arresting and beautiful. Gilead is an experience.and yes, a spiritual one I am grateful for.

posted by Baochi on October 28, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

Self-Indulgent, Wandering, Confounding

Marilynne Robinson is at times a beautiful writer, but this novel is not a showcase for her talents. Many other readers have commented on the absence of plot, which in and of itself is not a mortal literary sin. But when enveloped in a series of platitudes that rarely, ...
Marilynne Robinson is at times a beautiful writer, but this novel is not a showcase for her talents. Many other readers have commented on the absence of plot, which in and of itself is not a mortal literary sin. But when enveloped in a series of platitudes that rarely, if ever, manage to transcend the mundane nature of the narrator (a surprisingly self-absorbed Congregationalist preacher named John Ames) it becomes virtually intolerable. It might have worked as a series of loosely-connected meditations, but like the good Rev. Ames himself they remain stubbornly humdrum, almost banal.

There's a sense throughout the book that Robinson could not quite figure out what kind of person she wanted Rev. Ames to be - he is, at various turns in the narrative, defiant, judgmental, contrite, and resigned. Alas, these oscillations do not make for a complex character, just an inconsistent one. There are many, many passages where the Rev. Ames's voice (which is otherwise one of the few unifying elements) drops away completely, so that it feels as though you're reading a theological lecture by Robinson herself. And yet there's a surprisingly noncommittal nature to those ruminations - everything boils down to "maybe, maybe not" (at one point Rev. Ames muses that, "My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature."). I heard many similar comments over bong hits in college, and they were not more penetrating that Robinson's.

I say this all out of a profound sense of disappointment, as Robinson is clearly a gifted writer. And she isn't afraid to delve into history or religion. This effort, unfortunately, comes up short. With more discipline, and a bit of attention to storytelling fundamentals, this might have been a remarkable, even transcendent book.

I would not recommend this book, except possibly as an effective sleep balm.

posted by MarcusBrody on December 26, 2011

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  • Posted December 26, 2011

    Self-Indulgent, Wandering, Confounding

    Marilynne Robinson is at times a beautiful writer, but this novel is not a showcase for her talents. Many other readers have commented on the absence of plot, which in and of itself is not a mortal literary sin. But when enveloped in a series of platitudes that rarely, if ever, manage to transcend the mundane nature of the narrator (a surprisingly self-absorbed Congregationalist preacher named John Ames) it becomes virtually intolerable. It might have worked as a series of loosely-connected meditations, but like the good Rev. Ames himself they remain stubbornly humdrum, almost banal.

    There's a sense throughout the book that Robinson could not quite figure out what kind of person she wanted Rev. Ames to be - he is, at various turns in the narrative, defiant, judgmental, contrite, and resigned. Alas, these oscillations do not make for a complex character, just an inconsistent one. There are many, many passages where the Rev. Ames's voice (which is otherwise one of the few unifying elements) drops away completely, so that it feels as though you're reading a theological lecture by Robinson herself. And yet there's a surprisingly noncommittal nature to those ruminations - everything boils down to "maybe, maybe not" (at one point Rev. Ames muses that, "My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature."). I heard many similar comments over bong hits in college, and they were not more penetrating that Robinson's.

    I say this all out of a profound sense of disappointment, as Robinson is clearly a gifted writer. And she isn't afraid to delve into history or religion. This effort, unfortunately, comes up short. With more discipline, and a bit of attention to storytelling fundamentals, this might have been a remarkable, even transcendent book.

    I would not recommend this book, except possibly as an effective sleep balm.

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    One of my favorite books ever!

    A few years ago, I bought a used copy of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 and I aim to read most - if not all - Pulitzer Prize Fiction winners through the ages. However, I was in no hurry to read Gilead based on its synopsis. The combination of a seventy-something protagonist, an obscure town setting, and a religious theme just didn't sound like the page-turning story that I confess I'm always looking to read. Eventually, I had the good sense (or dumb luck) to pack Gilead alongside several other books for a solo vacation a couple of years ago.

    I love when my negative assumptions are completely upended, and the object of my assumption is revealed in beautiful truth. That's exactly what happened with Gilead. What I thought would be a boring novel turned out to be a profoundly transforming one.

    The story is narrated by minister John Ames, who is seventy-six and dying. As a gift to his seven year-old son, John shares his meditations on life, love, family, friendship and forgiveness. He describes three generations of Ames men, the misunderstandings between them, their love. Whether John is pondering a moment or a lifetime, he is never far from its spiritual significance. Those soulful musings - rather than coming off as preachy or unwelcome or scriptural - are delivered gently, simply. The prose is spare yet arresting and beautiful. Gilead is an experience.and yes, a spiritual one I am grateful for.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2008

    Disappointing...

    I usually love pulitzer prize winners. I enjoy reading books where the literary perfection inspires me. Even more, I love reading books where I am left afterwards feeling moved. After I finished this book I felt nothing. However, this book is beautiful in the way it's written, but that wasn't enough for me. I found it boring. I really struggled through it and found I had to force myself to read every page. I hate starting books and not finishing them and the goal of simply getting to the last page is about the only reason I continued reading. There is no plot, no development of characters, and I found myself skeptical of most of the historical references. All around, I just was disappointed with this pulitzer prize winner. I didn't feel it deserved the honor.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Still waters run deep

    An impatient, cursory reading of this book may not yield its treasures. (Bookwormiam seems to have given such a reading. The pastor most certainly does forgive his wayward namesake. And he proves that he is not too old to see his wrong assumptions and change his mind and heart.) But for those willing to settle in and let the details seep in, there is quiet wisdom and unassuming beauty. One of the few books I've ever read which, as soon as I'd completed it, turned back and began to read it through again.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2009

    Deeply moving

    Gilead's premise is a letter from an elderly father to his young son. A batchelor until he married late in life, and a new father in his 70s, the father writes to his son, in lieu of being present when the son grows up. Robinson gradually reveals the father's deep gratitude for becoming a father and tender love for his son and wife. As a long-time minister, the son and grandson of ministers, the father naturally writes to the boy of faith, his insights into pastoring a small town flock and Christianity. In addition, the plot very slowly unfolds (but it's worth waiting for) detailing the lives of his lifelong friends and neighbors, their family's history, and how the two families have become so intertwined. Be sure and read the companion book, Home.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2008

    mesmirised

    i read this book on a sunny sunday in one go. i couldnt put it down. it reminded me a lot of my own father, an evangelical minister, and his love for me.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2007

    The Secret of Life

    I have read many books in my lifetime, but rarely have I become so completely immersed in a work of prose that I literally had to take time to breathe. Gilead is one of the best-written, most poignant journeys into the human heart and mind that I have ever read. If it is indeed rare to find a book that leaves a permanent etch upon our minds and lives and changes how we live, then Gilead is the rarest of jewels, multifaceted and deep, and unshakeable in both its permanence and its humanity.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2010

    Rambling letter from preacher father to son

    An older father who is dying of cardiac disease decided to write a letter for his son, who is young still, to read. A fine idea and some plot lines that seem like they are going somewhere but they always seem to fall flat. You get the idea this is the preacher who has sanctimonious, long, rambling sermons that seem to last forever. The other preacher's son, who is named after him, is a trouble maker and the preacher can never seem to forgive him.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2009

    A wonderful book

    One of my favoriets

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful

    This is a beautiful story. I don't know how to describe it other than that. Usually I read a book and then pass it on to friends or donate them to the library - not this one. This one is staying with me as one of my favorites.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2006

    The Wholly Other Narrative

    If this narrative is but a novel, then all the other novels are but babbling baby talk. GILEAD is the poetic footnote that twenty-one hundred years of humanity and the humanities have added to the Beginning Word. This poem of somehow lucid spiritual mystery reveals a family genealogy of moral action by sewing it onto a tapestry with an unseen seamless backdrop of philosophy, psychology, and theology.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2006

    Great Book

    Totally not what I expected. It is very captivating and you get involved with the story. It shows and reveals the heart of a father and the love he has for his son. A great story!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2015

    Ok story overall, a little slow

    I'm not sure what I was expecting. However, this reads like a journal that is written with the intention of being read by someone else. Since it is supposed to be a letter, I guess the reading by someone else isn't surprising. The book is slow. It doesn't tell the whole of any particular story. It is a guy dying and just kind of coming to terms with that. There are a few lines that are great writing. I read this for a book group, and otherwise wouldn't have finished it. And, it doesn't really end, per se.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2013

    Waste of time

    Boring, pointless and repetitive

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  • Posted August 2, 2013

    Great Read

    You will not waste your time reading this book. It's a beautiful and lovely hymn to life from the perspective of a man whose life's work was to proclaim the Lord of Life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    I couldn't tell what this book wanted to be.  It was beautifully

    I couldn't tell what this book wanted to be.  It was beautifully written, but spent so much (well, all) of its time in the narrator's head, it became difficult to follow at times.

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  • Posted November 24, 2012

    Quiet and powerful

    Robinson's Gilead is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. One can find a memorable passage on each page. The book is not fast-paced, but it is filled with wisdom and an understanding of the human spirit. As the main character faces his own mortality, he also struggles to understand and be honest about his own shortcomings. This is a story about family, love, forgiveness, and the vast chasms that can occur between fathers and sons. It was a book club selection for our group, and we had a lively discussion about betrayal, predestination, faith, and forgiveness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2011

    Not too bad

    I enjoyed Gilead. I thought Marilynne Robinson did a wonderful job of at structuring the book. Although it was written as a letter from an aging preacher to his young son, I found that I was still able to connect and develop a relationship with the characters. There was not necessarily a plot, where one could say there was conflict and resolution, but yet I was still very much involved in the story. The reason I read the book is because I attended a book reading by Marilynne Robinson in which she read a few pages from Gilead. I was so enthralled by just the few pages that she read that I decided to read more.
    I very much enjoyed the insights into human reality and theology and the complexities of aging and reflecting on one¿s life that existed throughout the entire book. There were several times that I paused while reading to appreciate a truth that was spoken or an issue that made me consider in as the different way the world. The book has a feeling as if you are reading a journal, where the writer just puts down his thoughts as they come to his mind. Although, when I write in my journal it¿s not nearly as beautiful. Also, it made for a better story, but rarely if ever can people remember conversations as word for word main character of the book. All in all it was a better quick and easy read, and pretty enjoyable. So recommendable or not? I think so.

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  • Posted August 6, 2011

    Disappointing

    I expected a lot more from this given the awards, but I struggled through this even though it was such a short novel. Perhaps I am just not religious enough to get it...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Softly ... softly ...

    This book should definitely be read in tandem with it's sibling, "Home". Marilynne Robinson writes with a depth of understanding and compassion for the families of two aging ministers, lifelong friends and neighbors. Through her eyes, we are given the privilege of reading the hearts of these men of the clergy, as they look back on their individual ministries, their marriages and their relationship with one another.

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