Customer Reviews for

Gilead

Average Rating 3.5
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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2009

    the book was different and interesting. the fact that the book was so highly acclaimed left me expecting more. a good book, not more than that.

    characterization is strong. i could see and feel these people. the theology was interesting. the main story seems to be the relationship between John Ames (narrator and minister) with his faith and their realtionship with his godson Jack Boughton (son of his best and oldest friend) as he reaches his old age in declining health as recorded in his journal for the later reading of his very young son. potential love triangle between the troubled godson and Ames wife who are a full generation younger than Ames.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2008

    Gilead

    Marilynne Robinson is the author of many books such as Housekeeping and Gilead. Gilead is a very tough AP novel. It takes time to understand this book. This book is about John Ame¿s letter to his son. Ame¿s knows that his life is coming to an end and he wants to give trust to his son. It was in 1956 he began to write this letter to his youngest son. John writes to his son about the relationship between his father. He was a chaplain in the Union Army. He talks to his son about the things he went through and describes the emotions he went through. Ame¿s tells his son a story of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons. He explains the relationship he had with his father and grandfather. Throughout the book they show their humanity and shortcomings that make the plot and characters real and believable in their struggles. This book was very poetic. It shows a lot of preaching and philosophizing that the father had to go through. Although this book was very boring and went slow I thought it was interesting how it shows and reveals the heart of a father and the love he has for his son. I think this book was very well organized but I don¿t think it was the book that I would read again. It was very boring and things went by slow. Nothing exciting seemed to happen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2005

    Should have been better

    What I expected was something new and different from this talented writer - what I got was a lot of preaching, a thin story line, and a prose style that has been lauded for its spareness, only the truth is it is hollow. There are beautiful passages, but not enough to save this book.

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    Posted January 26, 2011

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