Lila by Marilynne Robinson is a continuation of the lives of the characters introduced in previous novels Gilead and Home.
Gilead was told from the point of view of John Ames an elderly preacher with a young wife and son, who is writing a letter to his son, who won't remember him; when their peace is interrupted by the return of Ames' wayward godson, Jack.
Home ran concurrently in the story timeline to Gilead. As Ames writes his letter, Glory Boughton, Jack's sister, moves home to take care of her ailing father, but also as a last resort, having failed to spread her wings.
Home made me cry several times but Lila is on another level altogether and is simply one of the saddest books I've ever read in my life, from the very outset.
Lila the events of which occur several years prior to Gilead illuminates the backstory of John Ames young wife, how she came to marry him, and where she came from originally.
It is a tragic story of poverty and identity and loneliness, cleverly told, because it reads as a kind of internal cognitive dissonance brought to prose, and there's a naturalness to it. Lila is in the present, she is living in Gilead, and getting to know John, but her mind is continuously slipping into thoughts of Doll, the closest thing she had to a mother, the woman who saved her, the woman who abandoned her. The two lives could not have been more different, the homeless waif and the preachers wife leading Lila to a split sense of self.
The story becomes more heartbreaking still when post her marriage to Ames, the two repeatedly fail to connect, he is desperate to know her and understand her, and she is desperate to conceal her awful truths lest he never look at her the same way again. At the same time, it made me worry terribly for what became of Lila in the future without the steadying presence of Ames.
Lila is not a long book but it is a beautiful if melancholic one, and that is really something I've come to expect from Marilynne Robinson. I don't think that it is necessary to have read the two previous books as such but I think it would significantly enhance the reading experience if you did.
One to remember.