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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

American Heritage- Meditative But Far From Gripping

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is the narrative of a septuagenarian preacher living in a small town in Kansas in the year 1956, recording his experiences for his young son to read in later life. He recalls his own father, a preacher, and his grandfather, also a preacher though in a very different mould. He describes the years of loneliness he endured after his first wife died and his unlikely marriage in his sixties to a much younger woman. He agonises over his relationship with the son of his best friend, a man whom he begins by disapproving of because of the way the young man treated a young woman whom he got pregnant while he was a college student, but whom he ends up feeling immense sympathy for because of the young man's inability to fit into society or live up to his family's expectations.

I have to admit, I struggled a bit with this. I thought the writing, which is essentially meditative, was often beautiful and always thought-provoking and it caused me to consider aspects of my own life in a new light. Its great strength is that it depicts the spiritual life in a way that is both detailed and resonant. However, there is absolutely no plot and I found that if I left it down without a bookmark, I had trouble finding my place again because it all seemed very similar and quite undifferentiated by incident.

It might have helped if I'd known a little more about the abolitionist movement that immediately preceded the American Civil War, since there are a number of significant references to events that took place at this time, featuring the narrator's firebrand grandfather. That said, it feels to me like a novel that draws upon aspect of the American heritage that are a little obscure to outsiders.

A book with a great deal of depth but without much lateral movement.