This rarely happens, but I don’t know where to begin with this review! Beach reads, chick lit, mysteries, romances, almost any contemporary fiction…all easy to review. But Marilynne Robinson’s work is nothing like modern writing. Her writing is thought-provoking, powerful, resounding, and emotional on a much deeper level than most books written today.
Here are a few facts about Lila:
- Lila contains much internal monologue.
- The story is not told in chronological order.
- It is emotionally and intellectually challenging.
- It is a book that should be re-read for better understanding.
- Not everyone has the mental fortitude to truly comprehend the story.
- Marilynne’s approach to writing is a bit unconventional.
- Her prose is more literary than many popular novels.
- She does not use standard chapter headings, which can make a book seem lengthy and daunting especially to a reader who is more accustomed to ‘easy reads.’
- Even her writing style is not of the norm (Dialogue not signaled by new paragraphs, etc,.)
For those reasons, I can understand the one and two-star reviews it received, although I wouldn’t necessarily agree with them.
I believe I once compared her to a modern-day Faulkner in a review. Reading Lila, as with her other novels, takes a commitment from the reader.
Allow me to digress for a moment.
I have tinnitus. Ears ringing, crickets chirping 24/7. For the most part, it does not interfere with my everyday life. Except at bedtime. To fall asleep, I need some type of noise in the room. So, I set my television to Tvland on low volume and I’m asleep within minutes. Why Tvland? Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens, Roseanne, Friends… No-brainer, no commitment. It’s mindless entertainment. Silly jokes. Quirky characters. No engaging storyline. But, if I were to turn on The Mentalist, I’d be up all night. To understand the premise, plot, and scope of story, following along takes a mental commitment. Reading Robinson is like watching The Mentalist. You can’t skim through lengthy blocks of texts or page-after-page of narration and still appreciate the magnitude of the story, the value of the writing.
A man by the name of Bruce Stern left a comment on another reader’s review, as follows:
“It’s difficult and amazing to believe we read the same book. I guess it’s a matter of ‘different strokes for different folks.’ Too bad you didn’t feel the amazing grace, nearly unbelievable resilience, questioning trust, the tenderness, cruelty and love, compassion and fearfulness, and so much more.”
Point on! I can’t add to that. I felt those things. Many have. But not everyone will. If you’re willing to make the commitment, understanding that Lila is not light fiction and that skimming long passages of internal thought will negatively impact your comprehension, I highly recommend it.
In closing, I am not going to go into the actual story. This review is meant to reveal tone and expectations. Although Lila can be read as a stand-alone book, if you haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy, you should if for no other reason than to be able to appreciate what each adds to the other.
Next review – The Burgess Boys, by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Elizabeth Strout.