Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson (Appreciation: Marilynne Robinson, Novelist and Essayist, is an American Original — The National Book Review) is an American novelist and essayist. She has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, National Humanities Medal in 2012, and the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Robinson began teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1991 and retired in the spring of 2016.

In this novel from 2014, we are introduced to Lila who is homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside. She steps inside a small-town Iowa church – the only available shelter from the rain – and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the life that preceded her newfound security.

Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand to mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. Despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life was laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in the town of Gilead, she struggles to reconcile the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.

The novel moves between Lila’s life as wife and mother, and her life before, when she ran feral with Doll. Robinson deals with hunger, violence and carnality, all along dramatizing religious questions. Divine grace, damnation and predestination are the topics of conversation with the Reverend Ames. For example: “He seemed to be telling her that souls could be lost for ever because of things they did not know, or understand, or believe. He didn’t like to say it, he had to try different words for it. So she knew he thought it might be true. Doll probably didn’t know she had an immortal soul. If Doll was going to be lost for ever, Lila wanted to be right there with her, holding to the skirt of her dress.”

Throughout the book Robinson treats us to her beautiful command of language. For example:

‘There was night everywhere and snow, under a big moon. Beyond the few lights of Gilead the great white nowhere that the wind had all to itself, the frozen ponds and stricken cornfields and the ragtag sheds and shacks. The wind would be clapping shut and prying open everything that was meant to keep it out, bothering where it could, tired of its huge loneliness.’

This is a deeply poignant and thought provoking novel.

Check if this title is in stock at your local library Home | South Lanarkshire Libraries (

272 pages in Virago

First published 2014

ISBN-13 : ‎ 978-1844088829

Winner of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award

Longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize

Marilynne Robinson

Scroll to Top