Book Club: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson


My book club has been meeting for almost 3 full years now and for much of that time I’ve lobbied to get Gilead on our schedule with no success – until last month! Since this year we took turns choosing the books I knew this would finally be the year we read it (since I’d pick it for my month) and I’m very glad we did. What a marvelous book!

Gilead is written in the form of one long letter from Reverend John Ames to his six-year-old son. Reverend Ames is dying of a heart condition and wants to set down his family history and his thoughts on religion and life in general for his son to read in the future since he won’t be able to tell him these things himself. In a rather rambling style he moves from the past to the present – much like our thoughts work, but all in a really beautiful, lyrical style that is a joy to read.

The first bit of the novel is Ames’s musings and explorations of his heritage and childhood and then the letter switches to a present day description of his struggle to communicate with or trust his best friend’s son, Jack Boughton. Jack is a bad egg, so to speak, and Ames doesn’t like how he hangs around Ames’s son and wife and his cynical, unbelieving attitude. One of the book club members said she thought this part of the novel was unnecessary – she loved just reading about Ames’s memories and philosophical meditations. I thought the conflict (even if just internally) with Jack was fascinating and revealed many more depths of Ames’s character that will someday benefit his son.

Since my book club met during Thanksgiving week we didn’t get a very good turnout, but those of us who attended had a very passionate discussion. This is one of those books that is not only a pleasurable and rewarding read, but also makes for an incredibly stimulating discussion title. I think this is one of the best books that my book club read this year.

Have you read Gilead?

14 thoughts on “Book Club: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

  1. Fife Libraries only have it as a CD, not my idea of fun. I’ll have to track the book down elsewhere as I think I would enjoy it.


    1. I think it is one of those books that you should wait for the right time to read. It’s very contemplative and it takes it time – it would be frustrating to read it when not in the mood. It’s time will come for you. 🙂


    1. I’m so glad to hear that the companions are good as well. I’m looking forward to reading both of them next year. I’m so eager to see things from Jack’s, Glory’s and Lila’s perspectives.


  2. I’ve not read Gilead, but I read another of Marilynne Robinson’s books and didn’t get on with it at all. I fear she is just not the author for me. Maybe sometime I’ll try one more of her books before I give up altogether.


  3. Agree with every word and with your commenter who praised ‘Home’ and ‘Lilia’, as well. I’m hoping the Man Booker Prize judges will hang their heads in shame for ever more for not even shortlisting ‘Lila’ this year.


    1. We talked a lot about the setting and about Ames’s grandfather, race issues, the different types of faith, Jack, atonement, the symbolism of images that stayed with Ames, etc. Lots to discuss!


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