Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
Which book am I most looking forward to in 2014? Perhaps, surprisingly, Marilynne Robinson’s forthcoming novel, Lila. Robinson’s life and writing is suffused with religious faith, indeed with a strong-souled Calvinism (though, improbably, she tends to see John Calvin more as a kind of Erasmus-like humanist than as the firebrand preacher who railed against the human race as constituting a ‘teeming horde of infamies’). Her most celebrated collection of essays, The Death of Adam, she describes as ‘contrarian in method and spirit’. It is an unfashionably sturdy defence of Calvinism. It is an equally unfashionable call to arms against cynicism:
When a good man or woman stumbles, we say, ‘I knew it all along,’ and when a bad one has a gracious moment, we sneer at the hypocrisy. It is as if there is nothing to mourn or to admire, only a hidden narrative now and then apparent through the false, surface narrative. And the hidden narrative, because it is ugly and sinister, is therefore true.
We have been, Robinson observes acutely, ‘launched on a great campaign to deromanticize everything, even while we are eager to insist that more or less everything that matters is a romance’. It is this combination of cynicism and sentimentality that oozes through much of contemporary life and against which Robinson bears arms.
There is much on which I disagree with Robinson, for there is a great distance between her view of the world and mine. And yet even in her wrongness she often possesses the power to illuminate and to make you question your certainties. And even in her wrongness the grace of her writing makes reading both a pleasure and an education.