Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson


As someone who has nursed not-so-secret dreams of novel writing since childhood, I have often puzzled over how to write as a Christian, but for a non-Christian audience. I once had a conversation with Natasha Moore regarding this quandary. She recommended Marilynne Robinson as someone who writes in ways you didn’t know Christians could get away with. More than merely ‘getting away with it’, Robinson’s novels have been met with great literary acclaim, and “Gilead” won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 

So I read “Gilead” in two sittings. The first sitting had the feeling of a pleasant stroll in the early afternoon. The novel begins slowly and simply. I was drawn in, not by the events of the story, but by the comfortable nature of the writing, and by the pleasure of spending time with the narrator, the Reverend John Ames.

I read the latter two-thirds of “Gilead” in an evening that ended with me crying in my bed at midnight, and feeling that, maybe, reading good fiction is a spiritual discipline too. Because though “Gilead” is written as a journal, or rather a letter, from the dying Reverend to his young son, it becomes more than that— a journey to forgiveness and a testament to the unexpected possibility of understanding one another.

For those interested in writing fiction from a Christian perspective, this book is an exhortation: write letters, write journals, write in order to understand yourself and others, write as a form of prayer, write fiction and write poetry. And whether you write for a Christian or a non-Christian audience, write for God’s glory.

Ellanda Joyce

This review first published by Anglican Deaconess Ministries.