Shiny Book Club – Lila by Marilynne Robinson

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Introduced by Harriet

It’s time for the third round of The Shiny Book Club – we’re posting the questions now, and the discussion will start in our Extra Shiny issue in about eight weeks’ time. The book we’ve chosen for you this time is, we think and hope, one that will lead to a lively discussion by dividing opinion. In fact it’s already done that, as Simon and Harriet loved it, and Victoria and Annabel don’t like Marilynne Robinson (so far! Maybe we can change their minds?). Yes, it’s Robinson’s latest novel, Lila, reviewed by Simon in Shiny Issue 3. You can read that review here.

Briefly, the novel is set mainly in Gilead, a small town in Iowa, in the early 1950s. Readers of the earlier novels (Gilead and Home) will know of Lila, as she’s the wife of John Ames, the elderly minister who, until he met her, had been living alone for decades following the death of his wife and newborn baby. Lila is only sketched in in the earlier books, though there are hints that she is still, after some years of marriage, a bit of a mystery to her husband, who, however, loves her deeply. Now we are going to be privy to that mystery. The whole story of her previous life is now revealed slowly, mostly through her memories – although this is told in the third person, it is entirely from Lila’s point of view. And an extraordinary life it proves to be – a wandering outcast for much of it, and later a degrading period in a house of ill repute. The main plot of the novel, aside from these flashbacks, concerns the growing relationship between John and Lila. Decades apart in age, having nothing apparently in common, they are drawn together by an incredibly strong bond.

Here are some questions to think about as you read:

1. What do you think draws John and Lila together?
2. ‘John and Lila have their differences, but they learn much from each other’. Is this true? What do they each learn?
3.The novel is set in the 1950s. How important is this, and how well does it evoke that time period?
4. Do you think of John and Lila as essentially good people? Do they have flaws?
5. Lila was long-listed for the Man Booker prize but failed to make the shortlist. Any ideas why this might have been?

We will reconvene here on December 3rd when our Christmas Extra Shiny is published. The discussion will take place in the comments below. If you’ve reviewed the novel yourself, do put in a link to your review!

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