Takeaway: Love, in essence, is the greatest expression of Grace.
It is not often that I re-read a book so quickly after a first reading, but Lila was the best novel I read last year and I wanted to re-read fairly quickly to see if I was just swept up or if I would love it just as much the second time.
The first time I listened to the audiobook, this time I read it on kindle. I didn’t realize (because I was listening) that there are not chapters, but only pauses. That lack of formalized structure reflects Lila, who is uneducated, almost feral.
At the beginning of the book Doll takes Lila (as a young child) from the home where she was being ignored and neglected (nearly to death) and raises her the best she can. But because of that kidnapping and some other background, Doll and Lila are on the run for all of Lila’s childhood and young adult life. There is no one, except Doll, that Lila can trust; no one that really loves her.
So when Lila stumbles into Gilead and meets the elderly pastor John Ames and is loved by him (and eventually married to him) that lack of trust in the world does not end over night.
As I said before, this is a meditation on grace more than anything else. Robinson is looking at faith and love and grace from the perspective of someone that has no background and no understanding of the historic concepts of Christianity. Lila is intuitive and very smart, but because she has no background she has to feel her way through. And her eventual husband John Ames wants to help her, but not push her.
The sense of this marriage as illustration of the love of Christ for the church is real. And that is part of the strength and beauty of the book. But there is a limit to that illustration. Ames is not perfect (although he is close). And Ames is old, and both of them know that their marriage is temporary because Ames will not live all that much longer. But for someone that has grown up in the church and heard stories of grace throughout my life, this struck me as one of the best illustrations of grace that I have read.
I don’t want to over play the book too much. It is theological, it is a bit slow, there are some parts that are predictable, but if you like books that have lots of ideas and beautiful language (but not a lot of story) then this is one of the best I have read and I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first.