Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, USA, 2004

This is a very different kind of book. There are no heroes or heroines and no complicated plot; the action, if there is any, takes place on a passive, inner plane. The book, which is beautifully written, is no more than the musings of an old man, John Ames, looking back on his life. His thoughts are directed towards his young son, as he tries to bring together some of the wisdom he has gained over the years in the hope that that it shall eventually stand the child in some stead.

There is no particular order to the thoughts: the reader follows the haphazardness of John's recollections as he hovers over memories from his childhood, stories about his grandfather or things his father told him; however, it is when the reader finally stands back from these disjointed thoughts that he/she can discern the thin, red thread tying everything together.

Many of the thoughts are beautiful, some are very sad, most are thought-provoking, and, at least in the first part of the book, the disjointedness of the thoughts makes the book more suitable for reading in short bursts rather than reading it cover to cover in two or three sittings. Nevertheless, as the thread holding it all together becomes more and more apparent, an element of suspense is added to the mixture, and beyond appreciating the beauty of the thoughts the reader becomes eager to find out what will happen.

Photo of Marilynne Robinson from
Via her character Ames, Robinson manages to discuss many of those important questions regarding life and death. It is a beautiful book and one that is well worth reading.