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Book of the month

November book of the month: Lila by Marilynne Robinson - Apply for free copy and put your questions to the author

38 replies

RachelMumsnet · 02/11/2015 15:57

When Barack Obama recently announced he’d learned his most important lessons from novels, there was one writer in particular that he wanted to celebrate. Marilynne Robinson’s previous three novels: Homecoming, Gilead and Home (which won the 2009 Orange Prize) are already Presidential favourites; her latest novel and our Book of the Month, Lila, is set in the same quiet, 1950s Midwestern town as Gilead and Home, and follows the unusual marriage of the Reverend Jon Ames and his wife Lila. Lila has a turbulent background that is utterly at odds with the small-town society and it’s homespun values. Having survived violence and neglect, she struggles to fully accept her new life whilst also recognizing the security and love that it provides. The Reverend has his own complex motives and feelings towards their relationship. The book is a subtle, shifting reflection of how people truly relate to each other, with all the ambiguity and misinterpretation and sudden intimacy that this entails. Infused throughout the writing is a consistent exploration of goodness and spirituality and human nature. As Obama put it, it’s to do with ‘being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of greys, but there’s still truth there to be found ... And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.’


What the critics said:

‘Lila is a really beautiful book: beautiful prose, beautiful story; morally beautiful too. After reading it the world seems more dazzling, fuller of wonder and mystery than it did before, as if you were newly in love. I wish I could persuade everyone who ever buys a book to read this one’ (Cressida Connolly Spectator)

‘Robinson has made a world so palpable and full that each book can stand alone...Taken together, these books will surely be known as one of the great achievements of contemporary literature’ (Observer)

Lila has a power beyond words (Stylist)


What Mumsnetters Said:

‘Lila is the new one from Marilynne Robinson - it is beautiful. Have you read George Eliot's novels? Robinson reminds me more of her than anyone else.’ Canyouforgiveher

‘Home & Housekeeping are two of the very few books I will always return to… a beautiful but understated knowledge of human nature.’ Thegentlemonkey


We have 50 free copies of Lila up for grabs. Apply for a copy and post up your questions to the author on this thread before 14th December. We'll be sending up to 15 Qs over to Marilynne and upload her answers to this discussion thread in early January 2016.

November book of the month: Lila by Marilynne Robinson - Apply for free copy and put your questions to the author
OP posts:
redalertalpha · 21/12/2015 18:31

I enjoyed the charm and prose of this book, Lila is exceptional character considering all she has lived through, her kindness and determination was inspiring to read.

RachelMumsnet · 21/12/2015 20:40

Thanks to all those who posted up questions and shared their thoughts on Lila. We've closed the Q&A now and sent the questions over to Marilynne and as soon as we get the answers back in the New Year, we'll upload them to this thread.

Just a reminder that book of the month will resume in January when we'll be reading The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan. Do join us on this thread to chat about the book and join the webchat with the author on Wednesday 27 January at 9pm.

OP posts:
UrsulaMumsnet · 11/01/2016 15:52

Hello all, Marilynne has sent back her answers to your questions so we will be posting them up very shortly. Watch this space!

MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:14

@frogletsmum

Thank you so much Mumsnet and Virago for the chance to read this book. I read Gilead, Home and Lila one after the other and I was completely transported to that world. Each one in its own way is so powerful and full of truth about human nature. I loved how complex and utterly believable each character was, and yet how different each book felt from the others. When I finished each one I felt like I'd been to a different place and come back wiser, and sadder too.

I'd like to ask Marilynne, did you always plan to write three books from different viewpoints, and did you work on each one independently, or did you have all the characters' voices in your head as you were writing each book?

I've love to ask more questions too - are we allowed more, Mumsnet?


I didn’t set out to write three books, but I found that, after Gilead, the othervoices were very strong and distinct in my mind, and the characters as presences, so I decided to give them their novels.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:16

@Fifinella

Thank you much for the book. I'd never read anything by Marilynne Robinson before but I will definitely be seeking out Gilead and Home. I found Lila a really calming read, I think because of the trust Lila and the Reverend do seem to ultimately have in each other and the strength of the relationships between them and between the characters of Lila and Doll. There is a strength of belief in the writing which made it very soothing to read, though also sad and evocative at times.

It is written as Lila's stream of consiousness and I did miss having chapters, I don't have the reading self-control to put a good book down without.

My question isn't really related to the book but is just out of curiosity; I would love to ask Marilynne what she herself is reading at the moment!


My tastes are a little arcane. At this moment I am reading the writings of John Wilkes Booth—horrible spelling, but an interesting light on an abominable event. Next up is Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, by Galileo Galilei. Somehow it refreshes my sense of the present to read closely things that were thought and said in the past, and to look at different ways of thinking which have mattered in history. I’m normally pretty quiet about this sort of thing. I know this is a great period for the novel, and I’m missing out on the achievements of my contemporaries. But they would not criticize me for doing what I must do to refresh my thinking.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:17

@FernieB

Like fifinella I've not read this author before, but did enjoy Lila and will be putting Home and Gilead on my Christmas list. I'd like to ask if there are any other characters within these books that Marilynne has plans to develop into books of their own?

Also, where does she write and what's on her desk?


I write at home, usually in my study. I don’t actually own a desk. When I was in college and a desk was provided, I sat on top of it. Somehow a desk represents to me a kind of life I didn’t choose.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:18

@BearAusten

A heartbreakingly beautiful story. Very emotive.

Did the character of Lila evolve slowly in your mind from the first novel of the sequence, Gilead, or did you always know her story and who she was?

What will your Christmas Day be like? I hope you have an enjoyable one.


I knew Lila well enough to have a general sense of her life, even though the details and particulars that created the sense of it on paper came to me as I wrote. A character always limits and directs its own creation, oddly enough.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:20

@barricade

Many thanks again to Mumsnet and Virago / Little Brown Books for a copy of this book. I hadn't read Gilead or Home, but as opposed to a direct sequel, this appeared to be a companion piece, written to work just as well as a standalone story, so I decided to go ahead and read it. Just finished. Not sure if I should review the book just yet without first taking some time to reflect upon the story, but what I can say is that it is really well written, very emotive, and clearly a lot of hard work went into it. (You're not a Pulitzer Prize winner as well as a recipient of a 'Presidential' award without being an extremely talented writer).

I'd like to ask Marilynne a few general questions, if I may (I'm sure I will think of better ones later, but I think we've reached the deadline for submitting questions, so better get them in quick) ......

QUESTION ONE:- Do you have a personal favourite out of the books you've had published? And/or out of books published by other authors?
QUESTION TWO:- With the advancements in CGI and on-screen visual effects, and the tools now available to filmmakers, we have seen previously unfilmable literary classics finally make it to the big screen. Would you be open to the possibility of your books being optioned for film or television, and how would you feel about your work in 'other people's hands'?
QUESTION THREE:- What's next? Is there another book on the horizon, and if so, do you have a specific genre or theme in mind?

Smile


One: Choosing a favorite feels like an act of betrayal, as if one were choosing a favorite among one’s children. I like best whichever one a critic or a reader likes least. My preference changes very often.

Two: Books have been optioned in the past, but things intervened, as they often do with films. Something interesting is under discussion now. We’ll see.

Three: Time will tell.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:21

@sherbertfountain

Thanks so much for my fabulous free copy of Lila.It is my 1st book by the author although I am now expecting the previous 2 for Christmas presents! I would like to ask Marilynne why she chose to set the book in the 1950's?


When I was writing Gilead I was thinking about a transitional period in American history. I wanted a narrator who was old enough to have known someone who had been in the Civil War, and who had lived to see the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. The other books take place in the same time frame necessarily.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:22

@navylass

I would like to ask Marilynne if she has a strict structure to her day as regards writing. Also what is her favourite book of all time. Thank you.


Strict structures are disagreeable to me in the same way desks are. I write when I feel like it, which seems to be just often enough. I’m sometimes just not in the right state of mind. When I’m not, the work isn’t good, so the effort is worse than wasted. I have quite a few favorite books. Moby-Dick, the collected poetry of Emily Dickinson, of Wallace Stevens. Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies. The Sound and the Fury. Leaves of Grass.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:24

@navylass

I would like to ask Marilynne if she has a strict structure to her day as regards writing. Also what is her favourite book of all time. Thank you.


Strict structures are disagreeable to me in the same way desks are. I write when I feel like it, which seems to be just often enough. I’m sometimes just not in the right state of mind. When I’m not, the work isn’t good, so the effort is worse than wasted. I have quite a few favorite books. Moby-Dick, the collected poetry of Emily Dickinson, of Wallace Stevens. Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies. The Sound and the Fury. Leaves of Grass.
MarilynneRobinson · 11/01/2016 16:24

@frogletsmum

If it's not too late, could I ask Marilynne a couple more questions please?

Do you find it hard to leave your characters and books behind when you finish each one?

And I love the way your characters are so complex and how you find some goodness in everyone, but also how your show that good people can unwittingly do harm. But have you ever, or can you imagine, writing a character who is wholly, irredeemably, bad?

Thank you again for the chance to read Lila - definitely a high point of my reading year!


Gilead begat the other novels largely because I couldn’t leave the characters behind. I don’t think I really believe in irredeemable badness, I suppose because what might look like it also looks like mental illness, which I don't want to sensationalize or exploit.

I’m happy to know you enjoyed Lila.
FoxInABox · 01/02/2016 13:30

I loved Lila and have just bought home based on how much I enjoyed reading Lila. Beautifully written, Marilynne has a gorgeous way with words. I couldn't put it down.

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