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In With A Side of Knowledge, a podcast from the University of Notre Dame, Marilynne Robinson talks to Ted Fox about her novel Gilead, and shares her thoughts on faith, meaning, and the writing process.

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Robinson has told us what Lila knows, with a consistent spareness and precision of expression that compel attention from the book’s first line. She has brilliantly voiced a story about deprivation, trust and mistrust, the critical edginess of real compassion – unmistakably a Christian story, but far from an ideologically triumphant argument. Its moral acuity and insistence on what it means to allow the voiceless to speak give it a political and ethical weight well beyond any confessional limits. It will repay many readings for the subtlety of its narration, its sensuously realised descriptions and its stark emotional and psychological clarities. Lila is the work of an exceptional novelist at the peak of her capacity.”

— Rowan Williams, New Statesman

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Tom McCarthy

Having finished Marilynne Robinson‘s superb Gilead last week, I am now revisiting one of the favourite novels of my adolescence: Stephen King‘s The Stand. It’s the expanded 1989 version of King’s post apocalyptic novel, which I have been meaning to return to since re-reading King’s It last summer.

Silent Frame has published a great interview with Andrew Gallix, the journalist and translator many will know as the editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine. When asked what book he would recommend to Silent Frame‘s readers, he responded: “Remainder by Tom McCarthy. The best French novel ever written in English. It has a special place in 3:AM Magazine’s history, as we were the very first to champion it. This is where twenty-first-century literature began.”

LitHub has posted a conversation with Jacques Testard, founder and editor of the rising independent publisher Fizcarraldo Editions: “I’ve had a few glamorous moments—the pinnacle was the Nobel Prize dinner for Svetlana Alexievich in Stockholm—but I spend a lot more time carrying big bags of books to the post office than drinking martinis with famous authors.”

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Spring is here, though on this morning the morose Cardiff sky begs to differ. I have finished reading Thomas Merton‘s memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain, and would highly recommend it. I have now picked up Marilynne Robinson‘s 2005 novel, Gilead, a first-person narrative that takes the form of a letter from an ageing Idaho Reverend to his young son. The novel is beautifully understated and really quite moving.

I recently interviewed the academic David Lloyd about his book on Samuel Beckett and art, entitled Beckett’s Thing: Painting and Theatre (Edinburgh University Press). Lloyd shares his passion for Beckett’s writing, and traces the writer’s abiding fascination with painting (while also acknowledging his abiding friendships with a number of twentieth-century European artists). Among other things, Lloyd mentions Beckett’s visual memory: “Beckett had an amateur’s (in the best sense) deep knowledge of the Old Masters, from Flemish and German painters to Italian painters of the high Renaissance. […] He had remarkable visual recall: to give just one example, there is a St Sebastian by Antonello da Messina that he saw in Dresden in 1937 that he describes with astonishing accuracy and detail in a letter to Duthuit in 1948.”

Finally, I see that my friend Scott Eric Hamilton is guest-editing a forthcoming issue of The Parish Review, a journal celebrating the work of Flann O’Brien. It’s lovely to see that he is currently accepting submissions.

In an historical first, the President of the United States sits down to interview an American woman writer about her life and work

From The New York Review of Books:

The President: Well, as you know—I’ve told you this—I love your books. Some listeners may not have read your work before, which is good, because hopefully they’ll go out and buy your books after this conversation.

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Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (1980)

I first picked up Gilead, one of your most wonderful books, here in Iowa. Because I was campaigning at the time, and there’s a lot of downtime when you’re driving between towns and when you get home late from campaigning. And you and I, therefore, have an Iowa connection, because Gilead is actually set here in Iowa.

And I’ve told you this—one of my favorite characters in fiction is a pastor in Gilead, Iowa, named John Ames, who is gracious and courtly and a little bit confused about how to reconcile his faith with all the various travails that his family goes through. And I was just—I just fell in love with the character, fell in love with the book, and then you and I had a chance to meet when you got a fancy award at the White House. And then we had dinner and our conversations continued ever since.

So anyway, that’s enough context. You just have completed a series of essays that are not fiction, and I had a chance to read one of them about fear and the role that fear may be playing in our politics and our democracy and our culture.* And you looked at it through the prism of Christianity and sort of the Protestant traditions that helped shape us, so I thought maybe that would be a good place to start. (more…)