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

by Marilynne Robinson

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4,2441351,169 (3.96)350
Member:kiwidoc
Title:Housekeeping
Authors:Marilynne Robinson
Info:Bantam (1984), Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Fiction. American.

Work details

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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English (132)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (134)
Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping was an impulse read. I had not heard much of her or her work, but the cover was intriguing, and the reviews on the back of the book suggested it would be well-written. I am happy it found its way to me.

For anyone who has ever felt abandoned, this book does a great job of explaining, in some depth, the varieties of feelings that can emerge as a reaction to being left behind. If you prefer fast-paced, plot-driven books, don't expect that from this one. It is a very introspective analysis of a few characters, as they work to understand their places in society and how to cope with the impermanence of the people around them.

The language was beautiful, but at times required reading multiple times to fully grasp. In my reading, I felt a deep melancholy thread running throughout the entire narrative. This tone left me waiting for something terrible to happen. In the end, something that many readers may view as terrible does finally occur, but the book challenges the reader to examine whether this is indeed a negative outcome or if your narrow-minded expectations of people lead you to feel that way. ( )
  jessicamhill | Jul 24, 2016 |
I think it is my favourite of all her books. There are times when you feel you may be lost in the words, the imagery is intense, poetic and profound, but shoulder on, because what is achieved in understanding is priceless. ( )
  a_forester | Jul 6, 2016 |
I tried to listen to the audiobook. I sat myself down with a basket of mending, and when the mending was done, I thought to myself, Ok, there's two chores done. I have examined a paper copy and I see that I got to p. 48 - more than 20%, which is a good sample I believe - and that was definitely all the time I wanted to spend with those people in that world. As Chandra says in her review, it just didn't ring true and was surreal and also, though beautifully written, depicting of ugliness. The narrator was fine, but not ideal imo, and couldn't quite save it for me.
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
I wonder if I would have rated Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have a Family more highly had I not been reading it concurrently with Housekeeping. After listening to a few chapters of Clegg's book, I'd read a bit of Housekeeping and think, "This is how you write about loss and faith and memory." In retrospect, this seems an unfair comparison. I mean, they're both debut novels, both critically acclaimed, but I just love Robinson's book so much and her approach to loss and abandonment resonates so well for me that I fear Clegg's book didn't have a chance when I read them side-by-side.

My favorite thing about Housekeeping is my favorite thing about all of Robinson's novels: she writes like I wish I wrote. "Sylvie stood up and stretched, and nodded at the sun, which was a small, white, wintery sun and stood askant the zenith although it was surely noon." (p. 152) I luxuriated in those words and in the same moment imagined the mundane way in which I would have described the position of the sun in the sky, and I felt something like despair. "...stood askant the zenith..." I felt reading that like I do when I look at a waterfall or the inside of a tulip or a sleeping child: a near-pain at such exquisite beauty.

And see, even there I wanted to describe how I felt, and I wrote it too over the top. "Exquisite beauty" is not remotely as significant and meaningful as "...it was he who brought us here, to this bitter, moon-pulled lake, trailing us after him unborn." (p. 149)

*sigh*

Robinson, through Ruthie, describes the way that loss gives significance to that which otherwise would be commonplace. Ruthie explains how if her mother hadn't left she would have remained unremarkable. She would have been just "Mom," someone whom Ruthie would inevitably have found annoying or embarrassing, someone whom she tolerated as well as loved. Instead, the tiniest details of the last hours Ruthie was with her mother are alive and huge in Ruthie's memory.

Of her relationship with her aunt Sylvie, Ruthie writes, "this was the measure of our intimacy, that she gave me almost no thought at all." (p. 195) I think about my two brothers, the one who died when I was very young and the one whose wedding I attended last year and how many more details I remember about the short life of the former than I do about the man-sized life of the latter. I think about how, if I don't think about it too hard, my children and even my spouse seem more like an extension of myself than they do like autonomous persons. They are to me sort of like my hand or my arm are to me: I have to make a conscious effort to notice them. I love them, but they are too close, too present to stand out in my awareness all of the time.

Ruthie is also grappling with the effects of intentional and unintentional abandonment. "I was angry that she had left me for so long, and that she did not ask pardon or explain, and that by abandoning me she had assumed the power to bestow such a richness of grace." (p.161) By creating a void, the abandoner takes on the power to fill that void. She makes herself significant through her absence. Her mother's absence "established in me a habit of waiting and expectation which makes any present moment most significant for what it does not contain." (p. 214) This certainly made me reflect on my relationship with my children. Do I absent myself in small or large ways that create a need in them that only I can fill? And do I do this intentionally, albeit unconsciously, so that I can experience the significance and power of "bestowing such richness of grace"?

A recurring image in the book is that of someone lost breaking into fragments so that she's no longer in one place, no longer one being with distinct boundaries.

"And here we find our great affinity with water, for like reflections on water, our thoughts will suffer no changing shock, no permanent displacement. They mock us with their seeming slightness. If they were more substantial---if they had weight and took up space---they would sink or be carried away in the general flux. But they persist, outside the brisk and ruinous energies of the world. I think it must have been my mother's plan to rupture this bright surface, to sail beneath it into very blackness, but here she was, wherever my eyes fell, and behind my eyes, whole and in fragments, a thousand images of one gesture, never dispelled but rising always, inevitably, like a drowned woman." (p. 163)

When we lose someone integral to our lives, memories of them scatter and overlay everything. They end up everywhere, a constant ache that can never be soothed.

In addition to the big things, there are a few smaller quotes and images that I know will stick with me:

p. 182: "If their good works supplied the lack of other diversions, they were good women all the same."

p. 180: "...she considered accumulation to be the essence of housekeeping, and...she considered the hoarding of worthless things to be proof of a particularly scrupulous thrift." (puts decluttering in a different light)

and my favorite:

"Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them." (p. 154)

And this is what I kept comparing Clegg's novel to. His novel had so many similar ideas, but in Housekeeping they just seemed more true in their messy, raw, metaphorical indirectness. Having made this error, I now know not to read any other novels alongside a novel by Marilynne Robinson. So close a proximity to her novels just leaves all others in the shadows. ( )
2 vote ImperfectCJ | Jun 2, 2016 |
Somehow ends up being less than the sum of its painfully exquisitely written parts. The protagonists are so isolated, and they remain so deprived of context and motivation, that the story seems to gut itself of deeper significance and instead flirts with preciousness. It has some great moments, but it's not great. ( )
  CSRodgers | Jun 2, 2016 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:12 -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 6 descriptions

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