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

by Marilynne Robinson

Series: King Penguin

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,7241181,403 (3.97)287
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)

1980s (13) 20th century (52) America (17) American (80) American fiction (32) American literature (52) aunts (14) book club (16) coming of age (26) contemporary fiction (39) death (19) family (77) fiction (686) Idaho (38) literary fiction (19) literature (54) loneliness (14) loss (16) novel (130) orphans (26) own (21) read (52) sisters (57) suicide (23) to-read (84) trains (14) unread (27) US (11) USA (20) women (30)
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    The Swimmer by Zsuzsa Bánk (Emydidae)
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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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    Surfacing by Margaret Atwood (cransell)
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    So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (Jesse_wiedinmyer)
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» See also 287 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)
This is the kind of book that high school English teachers and maybe even some college professors like to make their students read, or rather over-read. The supposed symbolism in here is never ending, the most obvious of which being "What does the lake represent?". I was fortunate enough that I did not have to read this for class, and therefore could attempt to enjoy it. Notice, I say "attempt". My teachers and professors of yesteryear kept creeping into my head when I would read over a section whispering, even shouting in my head, "What does it mean? What does it symbolize?".

I couldn't get into, no matter how much I tried. I picked it up because it was on a list of 30 or so books college students should read, once graduated, to help them realize or even combat different feelings that would become more pronounced when they leave school; this one was on loneliness. As I was quite lonely through out my senior year due to numerous factors including a difficult Div 1 competition schedule and since hanging out with anyone I was close to up there now requires weeks of planning now that we aren't a few apartments away, I figured I'd try it. Let me tell you. It does not help. I've gotten past my loneliness, but it had nothing to do with this book. If anything, loneliness is only emphasized, perhaps even glorified. I can't quite explain it.

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book. The characters can lead to aggravation, at best and I just feel as though there's not enough to it. Again, I'm not sure how to explain it. I only know that it feels like it's missing something. ( )
  cebellol | Jul 22, 2014 |
http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/4837997/

I was doing fairly well for the first half and then it completey lost me. Page after page of musings on nothing that appeared to be deep but mostly just seemed like "I wrote this and darn it, I'm gonna use it." I'm trying to recall if the film was this strange, I think it was. The ending is particulary odd, just kinda trails off into nothing. Well, at least it is short.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Transience

Housekeeping is Marilynne Robinson's first novel that tells us the story of two sisters who are raised by different relatives. Ruth and Lucille, during their adolescent years, fall under the care of their Aunt Sylvie, their mother's sister who lives like a transient. She settles in Fingerbone, a fictional Midwestern town that boasts snowy mountains and an imposing lake, to live with the two sisters. The two sisters develop opposite feelings for their eccentric aunt, a woman who never does proper housekeeping. Is the title to be taken literally?

The novel begins with the narrator, Ruth, telling us simple facts about the people they were with when they were growing up. First, it was the grandmother. And then the grand-aunts. And then the aunt. This series of people taking care of the sisters immediately raises these questions about their parents: who are they, what happened, when they left, where they are, and why.

The language of the novel immediately lets us feel an intimacy reserved among family members. There is a lyrical quality to it that doesn't boast. It sings but it doesn't belt. It is underwhelming and amazing at the same time, as if the writer has been reserving these sentences for a long time and finally wrote all of them for this novel.

Indeed, it is. In an interview, Robinson revealed that when she was still studying, she was in the habit of writing in metaphoric language to get a feel of how it is to write in the manner of great classic writers. After such a time, she realized that she could continue working with these collected metaphors. She further developed them until it took the form of this novel.

I have often wondered what it seemed like to Sylvie to come back to that house, which would have changed since she left it, shifted and settled. I imagine her with her grips in her bare hands, walking down the middle of the road, which was narrowed by the banks of plowed snow on either side, and narrowed more by the slushy pools that were forming at the foot of each bank. Sylvie always walked with her head down, to one side, with an abstracted and considering expression, as if someone were speaking to her in a soft voice. But she would have glanced up sometimes at the snow, which was the color of heavy clouds, and the sky, which was the color of melting snow, and all the slick black planks and sticks and stumps that erupted as the snow sank away.

You know one of those novels where nothing really happens, that it's just people talking, or musing, or observing, or housekeeping? This is one of them. The plot is as quiet as the town where it is set. Fingerbone is as much a character as Ruth or Lucille or Aunt Sylvie, what with the many descriptions of little actions that take place under its cold climate. There is nothing spectacular about the town save for the train tragedy the cost the life of the only male character in this novel that was considerably depicted: the sisters' grandfather.

Their grandfather settled them in this place only to find Fingerbone's lake a grave for his body. It was never recovered, as if every piece of him melded into the town's serene landscape. This death opens up the themes of grief and loss. How do the people in this novel deal with loss? Do they find each other's way of grieving acceptable?

The lake's unrelenting floods that are flushed through the town are a constant reminder of the people's loss. Its waters bring all the dirt and mud for the townspeople to clean, and probably a morsel of the grandfather's bone for her grandmother to pick. But she never does. She copes with grief by not picking any discussion about her husband. Or her daughter, the sisters' mother. Eventually, the grandmother dies along with all the details of the mother's abandonment of them.

When Aunt Sylvie arrives at the town, things start to have a little shake up. The domesticity familiar to Ruth and Lucille are threatened by the aunt's attitude on things. A gentle woman with an independent and quietly willful streak, she has long earned the disapproval of the townspeople, and her taking charge of the girls upsets them.

The sisters have been inseparable before Aunt Sylvie, but the unconventional and too carefree lifestyle of this aunt divides the bond between the two. She takes serious matters, such as the girls' schooling, very lightly. She could only prepare food straight out of cans. With that alone, what could one expect from the state of their house where lights are barely turned on as if to hide the incompetence that can be easily gleaned from the rotting leaves by the corner, burnt curtains, unwashed dishes inviting vegetation, and newspaper bits here and there?

The headstrong Lucille will find a way out of the house while the shy Ruth will find someone else to hold on to. The sisters' paths diverge, and the rift between them will be lengthened further by the lake. This lake, plus the train, will help Ruth and Aunt Sylvie escape the town and all the loneliness hovering in its still air. Will Ruth drift from town to town, state to state like her Aunt Sylvie, or will she take charge of her own destination?

It is hard to write about this novel without revealing too much, but one doesn't read it for the plot. The character portraits are so powerful that one doesn't mind the plotlessness. One flips through the pages not in the way of a hungry person wolfing down dinner. This is like a mug of warm chocolate during a cool evening; slow sips swirled cheek to cheek, gradual drips at the back of the throat.

That's how you read Marilynne Robinson. She may, from time to time, pose unanswerable questions. It's a shame that she doesn't have a massive bibliography, but it is a delight to reread her novels when you have the urge to read contemporary greats that move so slowly and suddenly. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
rabck from prettynpink, registered; definitely a mood read. Very dense on prose and description. Ruthie lives with the grandmother and sibling. Then when grandma dies, Aunt Sylvie moves in to care for the girls. But she's a transient & drifter, and their life, which was odd anyway, becomes even more so. Sister Lucille moves in with classmates in town and tries to become "normal". But Ruthie drifts away with Sylvie, into Sylvie's transient world, finally escaping town riding the rails. ( )
  nancynova | May 29, 2014 |
Evocative writing - train falling in the lake, suicide by car into the lake, escaping town along the railway bridge over the lake. An eccentric family delicately portrayed. ( )
  siri51 | May 2, 2014 |
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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 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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