Book review – Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Here is the review of my February read, which accompanied me to London for a weekend and is now giving me time to read my second Willoughby Books subscription (Carter’s Nights at the Circus, review to follow!). I chose this book for obvious reasons – and with such reasons come great expectations. Mainly: I’m going to identify with this character more than any other, this had better be worth it. Having picked it up in Waterstones purely for the title, and knowing nothing about the author nor her style, this was a gamble. So in I dove…

At first, the novel keeps you at arm’s length. The stream-of-consciousness style isn’t easy to get into at first and sometimes you feel like you’re missing a trick. You don’t know where you are, when the story is set nor where the drama will lie. What does stand out though is a sense of tragedy. The snatching of a child, the Crash, loneliness…

Lila always remains on the outskirts – of Gilead, of Doane’s group of travellers, of the reader’s understanding. And yet, as you turn the pages, you feel compelled to stay with her, sit, sleep and feel her crippling shame alongside her, right there in the corner of her derelict shack.

And then, before I know how, I am Lila. Her questions, so deep but barely formulated, are mine. Like her I am weary of everyone and we feel the same yearning for just a moment of peace.

Doll feels like all the strong women you’ve known, and her precious shawl is the echo of all the comforters in the world. The reader wishes for a look at her face, to see beyond her mark. As for John Ames, the old man, he is all the lovers no one thought they needed. Tentative yet trusting, devoted (and devout), cautious in offering his heart, home and haven. Never has washing clothes in the babbling brook nearby, or the melting of late fresh snow for a christening felt so vital, so perfect. A bouquet of sunflowers or escaping through scrubbing and cleaning – these are the keys to sanity.

Lila bridges epochs, worlds, faiths and seasons. Reading it out of context of the Gilead trilogy means this is all I know of her – and it stands alone well. To me, it really is a precious, intricately crafted narrative. I’ve come away from it surprised at my initial reticence; the experience turned out beautifully. The great plains of America (which I recognise from my time with Grapes of Wrath) is the greater-scale setting for the infinitely complex innermost workings of my namesake’s mind. A strong, revealing journey.

Book review – Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

For my birthday late last year, No (my SO or OH or BH or however one calls their partner on blogs these days) aimed high and hit the nail on the head with the gift of a 12-month book subscription from the amazing The Willoughby Book Club. This means that during the first week of every month during the next year I will receive a book, hand-picked and tailored to my tastes by the book club experts.

This month I received my first parcel (yes, they deliver overseas, an important detail when following UK trends but living in Switzerland), with a lovely message from my SOBH, all wrapped up in purple paper like they knew me already. In it was “Ethan Frome & Other Stories” by Edith Wharton (Arcutrus, 2011). 20160122_160712

Bear in mind this is a short story, which explains the length of my review – come back next month for the review of the next book (which may or may not be any longer, we shall see!).

Summary

In the bleak winter setting of aptly-named Starkfield, a tragedy has unfolded behind closed doors. The narrator relays a story he has pieced together from asking around the village. Ethan Frome, a reserved and broken-looking fifty-something piques the reader’s curiosity and his story is is as dramatic as it is short. He was dealt a hard hand in life from the time of his parents’ decline in health. His unhappy marriage to a taciturn yet provocative woman limits his  youthful aspirations to happiness, learning and change. This is where young Mattie Silver comes in.

Opinion

I love the setting! Reading this in January, in the midst of post-festivity blues and in my cosy reading nook, I found the perfect place to escape to – Starkfield. The forbidden love storyline is one that always appeals to me and this is no different. Though nothing is explicit, the tension created is poignant. You almost wish this was a full-blown novel instead of a short story, but I think the length of the text mirrors the narrative – short and bleak.

Who’s it for?

Lovers of stories of heartbreak – I would say this provides lovers of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights with a booster shot of  hopelessness. Yeah. Sorry. But some of us love it…

 

This is as much as I’ll say about this book. I don’t think it would benefit from an in-depth character analysis or anything of the sort. Sometimes you just read to feel things from the words, without reading in between the lines. This is a perfect example of such a story.