After reading both Gilead and Home, I was curious to see how Marilynne Robinson was going to tie up her series with Lila. But since she’s created such a complex array of characters, the novel fits easily in with the other novels and adds yet another layer of richness and depth to the complex world of Gilead, Iowa.
Lila is all about Lila’s life before and after she enters Gilead and meets John Ames. We already know that she marries him, so this novel focuses on the why and the how. Lila is rescued (or stolen) from an abusive and neglectful upbringing by the savvy vagabond Doll. Together, they eke out a hand-to-mouth living, with various stints in various settlements, farms, and towns. Lila’s intelligent mind helps her absorb what little schooling she receives, and she holds a curiosity for life and determination to survive. But when she wanders into John Ames’s church, her life takes an unexpected turn, especially when she finds herself drawn to the charismatic but sad preacher. Lila’s story is one of hardship and tragedy, but also of awe and wonder for the world in which we live.
This novel is structured vastly differently than the other two. Lila is the narrator and sole focus of the novel, and her consciousness weaves backward and forward from past to present to imagination. At first, the narrative structure was hard to follow. But it suited her, and it gave me a glimpse into her mind. Robinson is a great writer of character, and Lila is her most complicated character yet. So I give her props for changing up her writing style to make the story fit the person she is depicting for her readers. While I still think Gilead is my favorite, Lila is also very, very good. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.