Gilead centres on John Ames, a minister recounting his life, writing his memoirs and reflecting on his belief and faith in the face of almost constant challenges (and by that I mean tragedy after tragedy after tragedy…) and comparing his life to his close friend (and lifelong chum) Reverend Robert Boughton, another man of the cloth. (Home is set concurrently to Gilead, though it completely stands as a story in its own right.) The Boughton family form the basis of this story, the second novel in the trilogy, which centres on the return of the Reverend’s prodigal son Jack and the impact on the family his coming home has, seen through the eyes of his younger sister Glory. And rounding off the trilogy is Lila, revolving around Lila (shockingly!), John Ames' second wife he married late in life. It's about her and john's courtship and subsequent marriage, but also about Lila's life before she came to be in the world of Ames.
Gilead was written in 2004, Lila published in 2014, Home in 2008 and kicking things off Housekeeping in 1980. Just the four novels spread over 35 years (she has written numerous non-fiction essays and pieces over the years). What makes her peerless, certainly to me, is the quality of writing maintained throughout, there is no flabbiness anywhere in any book and over that long a period of time is frankly staggering. She writes with beautiful clarity and intelligence and perception of human nature it's almost illusory like a hologram or something... But it's also a warmth and comfort that settles you physically and mentally and I would say even emotionally, like when you've just had a really crap day, boss on the rampage, forgotten the pack lunch so overpriced and over-salted sandwiches here we come, driven to distraction when the office is littered with the empty husks of staplers everywhere because no-one’s bothered to put in any staples once they’ve run out, and then you have a long walk home in the freezing rain, a hundred tiny ice picks a minute stabbing you in the face as a numbing coldness seeps through your clothes, soaking you to the bone and your feet leaden weight and long since numb… But when you walk through the door, a hugging warmth envelopes you immediately, you can smell your favourite dish simmering away and waiting to be drunk after you've changed into your fave pj's and comfy slippers having had a nice hot soak in the tub, is a hot chocolate with fresh whippy cream and marshmallows! Imagine how good you'd feel then after that day and that's how it feels reading these novels: jaw-droppingly magnificent work.
About the reviewer
Dips Patel is a graduate in Graphic Design which means he can colour in without going over the lines and when he does he makes it look deliberate, cool and edgy. He much prefers fine art where the art of talking nonsense is finer still allowing him extremely moderate success in introducing his work to a wider audience. Hobbies include reading stuff, watching stuff, commendably misguided attempts at painting stuff and consuming copious amounts of coco pops, clementines, curries, cakes and cocktails, not all at the same time which is frowned upon in polite society.