Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson – a brief review

Well, I’ve been reading Marilynne Robinson’s universally acclaimed Gilead, and at page 83 I’ve given up.

I cannot imagine what inspires critics to such paeans. If you believe that piety and quietism are the pre-eminent virtues, then perhaps it has something to recommend it, but I just found it a dull collection of inconsequential thoughts by a very ordinary person whose reminiscences do nothing whatsoever for me. Here the boldness and adventure of the great trek’s to the American West collapse into the parochialism and thoughtless faith to which the physical harshness and the cultural smallness of the colonialist’s existence is inevitably prey.

Nothing is allowed to disturb its fearful religiosity. The son returning from Germany, armed with Feuerbach’s brilliant, profound and sensitive atheism, is cast out. Every possibility of criticism or change, every attempt to hold their beliefs up to scrutiny, is rejected, and the resulting rigidity – which the author presents as timeless simplicity – creates a society inhabited by individuals (like the book’s protagonist) who are no doubt gentle and humane on the surface, but who, when threatened with anything they do not know, are likely to either be crushed (a tragedy for them) or turn their back (a tragedy for peace and democracy in 1914 and 1939) or lash out in the name of their vengeful Lord (a tragedy for the society about them, or at least for anyone who is not like them).

If I were looking for a simple explanation for why America scares me, this would be it.

More of RJ Robinson at

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