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Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
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Housekeeping (original 1981; edition 1984)

by Marilynne Robinson

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3,702None1,412 (3.97)284
Member:kiwidoc
Title:Housekeeping
Authors:Marilynne Robinson
Info:Bantam (1984), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Fiction. American.

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Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)

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    A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay (Miels)
    Miels: Both are lyrical, heavily atmospheric novels. Both concern the relationship between a strange, bookish protagonist and her more sensible sister. In Robinson's book, it's an eccentric aunt who comes between them. In Hay's, it's a charming, seductive man. Both books are very much about love, loss, social ostracism, and ephemeral/elemental beauty.… (more)
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» See also 284 mentions

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Robinson's award-winning debut novel is an unusual, sometimes poetic story of a strangely dysfunctional family of two sisters and their long-lost aunt who returns to take care (?) of them after two older relatives are unable to cope. As much as I wanted to like this, I guess I am always looking for faults in books so highly praised, and this one, despite some good writing, has a real hole at its center. In her quest to present the story of characters who feel disconnected from the rest of the world, Robinson has failed to instill any real believability--just oddness. This is attractive to a point, and the book's ending is quite affecting, even moving. But despite the short length of the novel, reading it is a slow careful process because sometimes the author gets so carried away in her dense language that it requires re-reading to get the sense (if there is any) out of the passage. There is a lot of heart and soul here, but I guess I am a reader who demands a little more sustenance for the brain. Of course, I am male, so maybe I just don't get it at all! ( )
  datrappert | Mar 28, 2014 |
A lake and metaphors and trains and a family. In a nutshell. ( )
  alienhard | Mar 26, 2014 |
What an enthralling, moving, atmospheric, beautifully crafted novel. ( )
  adzebill | Mar 14, 2014 |
Beautiful, descriptive writing. Recommended for anyone who enjoys language. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
I have a real desire to love Marilynne Robinson. She takes literature seriously; she takes thinking seriously; she's a little defensive about how seriously she takes these things. She doesn't churn out novel after novel after novel, implying that she actually thinks about what she's writing. She's hyper-intellectual and the prose of her essays is very, very effective.
But this? This is not, Mr/s Blurb Writer, a modern classic and it does not, Paul Gray (Time Magazine) "brilliantly portray the impermanence of all things." It's intellectually ambitious, sure, but just as with Gilead, I feel like the characters, the ideas, the prose and myself are all keeping each other at arm's length. Here we have the typical 'smart' writer's dilemma of having an uneducated, quiet and unsocial character as narrator of a hyper-intellectual, language-loving and garrulous narrative. We have the common problem of intriguing literary symbolism (small town on lake/many drownings/ties to Noah's Ark, memory and human community) slowly but surely becoming child-like metaphysics, which might be nice sometimes, but, when treated with this much gravity ("It had never occurred to me that words, too, must be salvaged... it was absurd to think that things were held in place, are held in place, by a web of words"), is particularly tiresome. We have strunk'n'whitean simplicity masquerading as genius.

Now all that said, it's impressive and I love the ambition. This is a review of my re-reading, and I intend to re-read Gilead (which I remember being a little less adolescent-girl-with-camera metaphysically frou-frou than this one, thank the Lord) and finally get around to reading Home (which I am hoping continues Gilead's trend towards a more social-religious focus). But I have a hunch that when we finally move on from the deification of MFA programs, this will be the kind of thing that's re-discovered every few decades, rather than taken as definitive for its time. The alternative, I guess, is that we keep deifying MFA programs, this stays in endless print, but nobody outside of universities reads anything other than Maxim and Cosmo.

Addendum: it can't have helped that I read half of this before, and half after, Powers' Morte D'Urban, which similarly treats the theme of worldliness/unworldliness, and is similarly ambiguous about the relative merits of these traits, but does so with much humor and lightness of touch. It seems weird to say, but Robinson's book might well strike me as more successful if I was comparing it to Dostoevsky, for instance, than Powers. ( )
2 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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Dedication
For my husband,
and for James and Joseph, Jody and Joel,
four wonderful boys.
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My name is Ruth.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312424094, Paperback)

A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:28:55 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone, which is set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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