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Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson
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Housekeeping: A Novel (original 1981; edition 2004)

by Marilynne Robinson

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4,4331461,106 (3.95)363
Member:dbvisel
Title:Housekeeping: A Novel
Authors:Marilynne Robinson
Info:Picador (2004), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Rating:
Tags:fiction, american

Work details

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)

  1. 10
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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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Showing 1-5 of 143 (next | show all)
Housekeeping is such a strange book, I hardly know how to begin. Marilynne Robinson is world famous, especially after Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, but I didn’t much like Gilead so I was in no rush to read this first novel when in 2015 it arrived chez moi with the first release of Faber Modern Classics. (Which has since gone on to become a list of 21 titles). Housekeeping sat alone and lonely, abandoned in a box marked 2015, but I couldn’t quite make myself take it to the Op Shop which is the fate of books that publishers have sent me but which fail to spark my interest. I have no such compunctions with thrillers, crime novels, YA and weepy memoirs, but, well, I am in awe of the Robinson name, if not of her books.

Alone and lonely, abandoned in the care of someone not very interested in its fate… without knowing it, I had treated this book just like the characters in this novel! Lucille and Ruthie are two girls living in Fingerbone, a small village in rural Idaho. In what looks like a carefully planned suicide, they are abandoned first by their sole parent mother Helen to the care of their grandmother Sylvia, who has herself been abandoned by all three of her daughters. (Molly has gone off to be a missionary in China, Helen had lost contact when she married, and Sylvie is an eccentric wanderer). When grandmother dies, two elderly in-laws called Nona and Lily come to care for the girls but they are only too relieved to abandon the responsibility when long lost Aunt Sylvie turns up.

Men are conspicuous by their absence: Grandfather Edmund is killed in a train crash off the local bridge, unburied in the same lake in which Helen suicides. The girls have never known their father, and there is a mock father figure of the sheriff (who is clearly out of his depth in this dysfunctional situation) but he becomes the catalyst for the breakup of this fragile family.

I haven’t read many reviews but the ones I’ve seen go on about the religious aspects of this novel and its Calvinism. That’s not what I noticed so much. This is a novel of the 1980s, a time when many of us were questioning women’s roles and exploring how we could have equal rights and our freedom and manage the impact on our families, our homes, and our children. It seems to me that in amongst the religious stuff, Housekeeping is asking the same questions, trying to resolve a yearning for freedom and a rejection of the expectation that it’s women who pick up the pieces. The novel asks: what happens when women just don’t do what society expects them to do. What happens when they just don’t comprehend the predetermined roles?

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/04/14/housekeeping-by-marilynne-robinson/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Apr 13, 2017 |
I read this twice in two days; it's lovely; it's set in an Idaho town in the mountains and by a lake, unfathomably deep, which drowned grandfather (in a derailment) and mother (in a suicide). Both the town and the lake are called Fingerbone. Overpassing the lake are both a bridge and train tracks along the bridge. Ruth, who narrates, and Lucille, who's a year younger, are sisters; the book begins: "My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher." This opening indicates at the outset the shapeliness and equipoise of Robinson's sentences and, in omitting Helen--suicide and mother who cared for the girls longer and earlier than grandmother, great-aunts-in-law, or aunt--does not mislead.

Water and air are everywhere. I mean both the elements--in Fingerbone--and the words--in the text. But of course they're everywhere anyway; people everywhere breathe air and drink water or they're dead. Light illuminates, too--Fingerbone--and how--and darkness enwraps; they're opposites; one or the other always obtains because physics. But water and air don't have opposites other than their absence, and they are never absent, not in Fingerbone.

Cold too is everywhere because geography--latitude, altitude, lake--but Sylvie is impervious. Characters ask her again and again isn't she cold and she never is. Yet at the same time she always is: her imperviousness is not only to physical cold but also to emotional currents. Though she can be pleased and can laugh.

She answers questions in letter but not spirit, technically logical but short of the point. "'Why are we staying here, Sylvie?' I asked." Here: in a boat under the bridge on the lake in the dark in the cold. "'Waiting for the train,' she said. If I had asked why we were waiting for the train she would have said, To see it, or she would have said, Why not, or, Since we are here anyway, we might as well watch it go by."

There is a remoteness, too, to Ruth's narration. We hardly notice it, because it is of a piece with Robinson's prose style and Fingerbone's natural disposition: all that water, air, cold, light, and dark.

These; and the bridge, the train, the lake: they loom. But Fingerbone--if a town is its people more than its natural disposition--is absent. Not even disregarded, simply unregarded, until the end, when it intrudes. Sylvie and Ruth and at first Lucille are insular and self-sufficient in their house on a hill on the edge of town set back from the main road. Lucille rebels midway through.

She tries to take Ruth with her; but Ruth is Sylvie's, in the end. Before that, though: "Sylvie did not want to lose me," Ruth reflects. "She did not wish to remember me. She much preferred my simple, ordinary presence"; "if she lost me, I would become extraordinary by my vanishing."

This is a lesson Lucille learns well; the book's last paragraph is a string of negatives that both affirm and deny. "No one watching this woman"--Lucille, the last sentence--"could know how her thoughts are thronged by our absence, or know how she does not watch, does not listen, does not wait, does not hope, and always for me and Sylvie." It is by their abandonment and absence, as much as by their clumsiness or cruelty, that family come to loom so large, and cast such long shadows. ( )
1 vote claritas | Feb 13, 2017 |
Beautiful prose. ( )
  bibliophileofalls | Feb 3, 2017 |
Exquisite. Rewards re-reading. In fact, it almost demands re-reading, as the writing is so intensely lyrical. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
This was one of the most surreal novels I've read. Robinson has a very dreamy narrative style. At times it can be soothing, other times disorienting. The story line itself was interesting and the characters were well developed, I thought. Overall this was good, but I much preferred Robinson's other book Gilead . ( )
  homeschoolmimzi | Nov 28, 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.
Quotations
Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. (p 154)
My grandmother['s]...eyes would roam over the goods she had accumulated unthinkingly and maintained out of habit as eagerly as if she had come to reclaim them. (p. 27)
Sylvie...considered accumulation to be the essence of housekeeping, and because she considered the hoarding of worthless things to be proof of a particularly scrupulous thrift. (p.180)
...fragments of the quotidian held up to our wondering attention, offered somehow as proof of their own significance (p73)
...leaves began to gather in the corners...Sylvie when she swept took care not to molest them. Perhaps she sensed a Delphic niceness in the scattering of these leaves and paper, here and not elsewhere.... (p.84-85)
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réédité en français sous le titre "La Maison de Noé "
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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)

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