Robinson’s prose displays the greatest reverence for the ordinary since the work of Virginia Woolf. Robinson insists that we see the beauty of this imperfect world. For her, the point of existence is to love this world’s imperfect human beings, no matter how difficult that proves to be. Reviewing Housekeeping in 1981, Anatole Broyard remarked,
It’s as if, in writing it, she broke through the ordinary human condition with all its dissatisfactions, and achieved a kind of transfiguration. 
Robinson’s novels speak not of the transcendental, but of the incandescent. God may be in His Heaven, but we are not. For now, there is only the world, and the people within it. I read Gilead when it first appeared in print (I still have a proof copy), then I read Housekeeping, and much later, Home. Lila is Robinson’s latest novel (published in 2014). A new novel by Robinson is like a new symphony by a great master; you don’t want to hurry the listening, you don’t want to be in the wrong mood when you begin. Going back to John Ames and Lila, back to the town of Gilead after all this time was a little difficult – traces of Gilead and Home remain in my memory, but not much specific detail, just that kernel of truth a great novel leaves you.
Gilead is an epistolary novel – one long letter from the Rev. John Ames to his small son, to be read, we assume, when Ames is long dead and his son is a young man. Gilead helped me write my epistolary novel Letters to the End of Love – as did Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. It is the cadence of Gilead I remember the most, John Ames’ voice lifting into the air, entering my consciousness.
In Lila, Ames’ much younger wife (who has a fairly secondary role in Gilead) is the main protagonist. We are given the story of her life before her marriage to Ames, and it is a life of deprivation, poverty, and abandonment. Lila would have been dead many times over but for two pieces of luck – a woman called Doll stole her out of her impoverished home, and in doing so saved her life – and her chance meeting with John Ames, when she sheltered in his church from the Gilead rain.
The narrative of Lila moves back and forth between Lila’s past and her present; between her years on the road with Doll and her eventual marriage to Ames (a man over thirty years her senior). Ames’ happiness with his wife and child that he speaks of at length in the novel Gilead has not happened yet – Lila is set before the child is born. Lila does not know if she will stay with Ames, even after she becomes pregnant, even after she has the baby. Lila is an elliptical being, orbiting people and places from a safe distance, never staying too long, never putting down roots, always wandering.
Barely literate, Lila copies out texts from the Bible in an attempt to understand them. This doesn’t mean she isn’t intelligent. Her intelligence comes from her experiences, not from education (either secular or religious); what beauty she has found in her life comes mostly from nature. Lila’s voice is not unlike the voice of Celie in The Color Purple - a poor, rural, female voice moving through a world that is cruel and harsh, holding onto something outside of piety and religion which just might be God as nature. For both Lila and Celie, the love of another human being liberates them; but it is a strange experience and not without fear or trepidation.
Robinson shows us the world in the most lyrical way without sentimentalising it. Her fiction is informed by her Calvinism but her prose is not religious propaganda by any stretch of the imagination – this is no mean feat in a world where proselytising has all but replaced any mystical or philosophical discussions of religion in public life. In a 2008 Paris Review interview, Robinson was asked if she considered herself a religious writer:
I don’t like categories like religious and not religious. As soon as religion draws a line around itself it becomes falsified. It seems to me that anything that is written compassionately and perceptively probably satisfies every definition of religious whether a writer intends it to be religious or not. 
The tenets of Western religion hold very little attraction to me. Yet when Robinson speaks of family, of duty, of religion and of God; I want to listen. I can only guess that it is the beauty of her prose that draws me in, and the empathic nature of her work that makes me stay. The love I have for Robinson’s work is not unlike my love for the music of Gillian Welch; another body of work steeped in religious tradition which offers a spiritual experience to all comers. No one is a stranger.
 Broyard, Anatole. “HOUSEKEEPING. By Marilynne Robinson” Books of the Times. New York Times. New York. January 7th, 1981
 Leise, Christopher. “That Little Incandescence: Reading the Fragmentary and John Calvin in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead.” Studies in the Novel. Vol. 41 No. 3(Fall, 2009). North Texas UP. p. 362
 Marilynne Robinson. The Art of Fiction No. 198. Paris Review. Issue 186. Fall 2008. New York.