Monday, November 29, 2004

Puzzling over latest James Wood book review

James Wood reviews a new novel called Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

It's a novel about religion in 19th century America, and may be of interest to people who are interested in early American lit and historical fiction.

Most of the review is praise of Robinson's writing of one sort or another. It gets interesting when Wood tries to distinguish Robinson's style from that of "secular fiction":

In ordinary, secular fiction, a writer who ''takes things down to essentials'' is reducing language to increase the amount of secular meaning (or sometimes, alas, to decrease it). When Robinson reduces her language, it's because secular meaning has exhausted itself and is being renovated by religious meaning. Robinson, who loves Melville and Emerson, cannot rid herself of the religious habit of using metaphor as a form of revelation. Ames spends much time musing on the question of what heaven will be like. Surely, he thinks, it will be a changed place, yet one in which we can still remember our life on earth: "In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets." There sings a true Melvillean note.

I'm not sure whether Wood likes this kind of writing (i.e., writing which is "renovated by religious meaning") or not. Perhaps one will need to read the novel to get a better sense of what Robinson is after?


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