Lila is Marilynne Robinson’s companion novel to Gilead. It’s the other side of the story, the side of the woman who marries the old Reverend and has his baby. Lila is homeless, she roams the countryside with a small band of people who look out for one another in the loosest way possible. And she tells her story in between talking about getting to know Gilead, the town and its people.
And while Lila doesn’t have much education, she is a thinker. And Robinson writes in a way in which her meandering thoughts are allowed to flow. No chapters, rarely a break in the story, and often entire pages with not even a paragraph break. For me this led to reading late into the night since I just kept going and going and found Lila’s thoughts fascinating.
As Robinson brings Lila in contact with Christianity, Lila starts to turn over in her mind what that means to her and how it affects what she thinks of the people she’s lived with in her life and the things she’s done to survive. But, the element of grace is never far away from Lila, seen through the people who live in Gilead.
But thinking about her life was another thing. Lying there in that room in that house in that quiet town she could choose what her life had been. The others were there. The world was there, evening and morning. No matter what anybody thought, no matter if she only tagged after them because they let her. That sweet nowhere. If the world had a soul, that was it. All of them wandering through it, never knowing anything different or wanting anything more. (p 242)
The old man always said we should attend to the things we have some hope of understanding, and eternity isn’t one of them. Well, this world isn’t one either. (p 259)
There was no way to abandon guilt, no decent way to disown it. All the tangles and knots of bitterness and desperation and fear had to be pitied. No, better, grace had to fall over them. (p 260)