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"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."

Customer Reviews:

  • Artistic and moving
    "Housekeeping" is not a novel for the faint of heart. Although at its surface it the fantastic tale of two girls it is, in reality, a comment on our relationship to place and home and our conception of the meaning of family. Robinson's writing is such that the reader never entirely falls under the spell of the story but remains fully conscious of each carefully crafted sentence. This "wordsmithing" is part of the allure of the novel, however, as it is a tale that requires that each line hold a distinctly unique part of the story. If you are looking for an author that demonstrates a complete understanding of her artistry and the effect it can have on a plot, Robinson will in no way disappoint you. ...more info
  • Worthy of a cursory examination like a fossil
    I just read a compelling short story by the new nobel in literature, J.M.G. Le Clezio, "The Boy Who Had Never Seen the Sea" that compares with the style of "Housekeeping" in its lyrical beauty and description but far surpasses Robinson's novel. I couldn't stop reading the short story and I can't keep reading "Housekeeping." Both authors are immensely gifted, and I haven't read anything else by Le Clezio although I will but I doubt I'll give Robinson another try. I wasn't thrilled by "Gilead" either and I don't think I'll try her latest novel.
    I think even if I was marooned on a desert island with nothing else to read, I'd throw "Housekeeping" to the fishes, too bad it couldn't be used as bait. I'ts simply too tedious. One simply tires of the kind of beauty this writer can evoke and you say, "enough already" can you tell me a story? I never got far enough to discover that there was a story.
    This may be a case of a writer who is so fascinated with her own ability she just wears you out with it. You could say that this was an arrogant tour de force with no regard for readers. She's like a scientist working long hours in a laboratory studying the minutae of something or other on the verge of making a great discovery no one will care about, but she'll be reknowned among her own kind and her work will reside in scientific journals no one but specialists will read. Maybe she doesn't care, this is the way she spends her time, but its not the way this reader wants to spend his time.
    This would have been better as a short story, or maybe a series of linked short stories....more info
  • A Work of Beauty and Heart-Wrenching Subtleties
    This is a story that creates a world of its own, a special town where the senses drive the story, where details jump off the mage and lodge in memory. The author writes about layers of loss the characters soldier through with freshness and determination, taking us on a journey of hope as the characters bond in moving forward.

    The novel has no predictable strokes of description or emotional cliches-- and for that alone it is a masterpiece.

    ...more info
  • Of women and their roles
    This is a quiet novel, subtle and precise in its depiction of the plight of a pair of orphaned sisters.

    Helen abandons her daughters Ruth and Lucille at the doorstep of her estranged mother before she drives into her watery grave at Fingerbone Lake.

    Ruth takes on the role of the narrator and it is through her eyes that we see the social relationships within the house as she and her sister are passed on from the care of their grandmother, to two anxious grandaunts, and then to Helen's sister, Sylvie.

    Sylvie inevitably subverts traditional notions of 'housekeeping' with her bohemian attitude, and fractures Ruth's own bond with Lucille, who grows discontented and ashamed of her aunt's impropriety and the unconventional household. Sylvie is eventually seen to be a threat to the tenuous balance of family and responsibility expected by the community, even in a town as remote as Fingerbone (which goes to show you can never escape the prying eyes of societal judgement wherever you are).

    What is striking in Robinson's writing is her constant allusion to the transient nature of the physical environment, which provides a rather apt analogy of how human relationships are also in a state of flux.

    Literary types could possibly knock themselves out examining the meaning and significance of water, which features prominently in the novel.
    ...more info
  • Pretty language but couldn't stay awake
    This novel is comprised of pretty, well constructed sentences. That's about all it is. Pretty, well constructed sentences. The story itself could be interesting, after all it is a tale of multi-generational abandonment but it is told so dispassionately that it was difficult to remain interested, let alone awake. The narrator, although the main character, was so far removed, emotionally, from her own telling of the story, that you wondered why she had bothered.

    At time it seems that the writer was so enthralled with her own use of language that she seemed to forget that there was a story that needed to be told. ...more info
  • Boring & Un-Moving
    First off, the author is a very beautiful writer, but almost to the point where I was thinking "okay I get it you're lyrically beautiful- now tell the story". The story was slow and boring. There was too much drifting off into passages sure they were beautiful but I'm not into beautiful passages where I get to the end and realize "wait? what?" and have to backtrack. Overall it was a bore, and I forced myself to finish it. The whole "transience" theme, didn't make for a good novel in my opinion. The character's were alright but I didn't get into them, or relate to them. I usually have more to say in my reviews but I just DID NOT LIKE IT....more info
  • Evoked strong feelings...
    What gorgeous language this author used ! There are lots of descriptions in this novel, and while at times they seem like they slow the story down (this book does not have a lot of action or a fast moving plot) they are a pleasure to read.

    I found the ending of the story to be very haunting and it left me with feelings of fear, fear of how easy it is for a child to be "lost". My own childhood was a mess and I felt, "lost" myself, and maybe this is why I feel so strongly.

    Truly an amazing book. I will always remember it.
    ...more info
  • This Book Will Change You
    This book is so beautiful and wise that if you give it a chance, and yes it is a difficult read, it will change you. The ending is so transcendent I have never been able to get through it without tears. Is it comforting? No. It makes us look at some uncomfortable truths. As Ruthie becomes more and more odd, more and more like Sylvie, she also becomes wiser, almost a mystic about time and place. Lucille on the other hand, in her dogged quest for "normalcy" becomes more narrow-minded, more banal, ultimately more dangerous. Reviewing a book like this is difficult because it is so much more than the sum of its parts. This book is an article of faith....more info
  • The Embodiment of Transience
    This novel, humble and quiet, is a beautiful and masterful book which embodies the transience of small town America, not to mention small town anywhere, or even big-city anywhere. Wherever the transients roam, isolated by their own sense of self and their sense of not wanting to or being able to fit into society, this book embodies their sad story, and yet also shows how it matches in with the hems of life, where everything ends, too.

    The book focuses on the final attempt of a true transient, Sylvie, to reconcile her life with the web of society. In each eccentric act of Sylvie, while we see one niece draw closer to the Aunt and the other further away, we sympathize with both. But certainly, in seeing Sylvie's actions which defy societal norm, it makes us as readers question why it is that we've established the norms we have, why we expect them to be followed, and why it is actually any better to do so.

    We can empathize with the truth of things: that since nothing lasts, why not live however you wish to, however oddly that may be, and however lowly that keeps you in the eyes of society.

    These are the driving ideas behind the novel which are masterfully posited, and masterfully carried out. Marilynne Robinson is an artist with prose and an architect with themes. Very highly recommended. Be careful to pay attention, but at your own leisure, to let it flow over you, not to read it expectantly, and it will work its magic....more info
  • "The force behind the movement of time is a mourning that will not be comforted."
    Marilynne Robinson has a poet's precision when it comes to crafting prose, and it was this gift for beautiful, lyrical language that drew me to "Housekeeping" after finishing her Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead: A Novel. And despite the twenty-five year gap between "Housekeeping" and "Gilead" her powers for storytelling are equally prevalent. Her heartfelt musings on life and death are nothing short of stunning; I read her books with a pen at the ready to underline key passages. Robinson's major flaw, if she has one, is that her plots fall just short of the breathtaking quality of her style and themes. While "Gilead" was a beautiful, rambling narrative, it lacked a sturdy structure to support its otherwise brilliant prose. "Housekeeping" has structure in spades, but is ultimately a tad too cold and impersonal to be as great as it should be.

    "That most moments were substantially the same did not detract at all from the possibility that the next moment might be utterly different. And so the ordinary demanded unblinking attention." Conveniently enough, it is in the realm of the ordinary that Robinson's artistic vision is at its most poignant. She captures the mundane, quiet life of her characters and makes it extraordinary with her skill and observation - truly, a magical feat. "Housekeeping" follows the paths of sisters Ruth and Lucille, who have endured a great deal of loss and tumult for girls as young as they are. The arrival of their aunt Sylvie, an eccentric loner with a transient spirit, as their new guardian proves to be a major catalyst in their lives. For Ruth, it marks the appearance of a kindred spirit - a damaged woman haunted by the demons of loss and mourning. But for the defiant Lucille, life with Sylvie is an embarrassment that must be escaped if she is ever going to lead a normal life. The disparity gives Robinson free reign to unleash her gifts, but the odyssey of Ruth and Lucille remains oddly impersonal.

    Having gotten that minor complaint out of the way, allow me to reiterate that I love, love, love Robinson's writing, and if she were to write another novel I would read it in a heartbeat. Let's just hope that this enormous literary talent doesn't make us wait another twenty-five years.
    Grade: A-...more info
  • Beautiful, Dreamy Novel
    Marilynne Robinson's magnum opus, "Housekeeping," is the story of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille. Abandoned by their mother, their care is passed through the family tree until their care finally becomes the responsibility of their eccentric aunt, Sylvie. The two sisters, once joined in their abandonment, begin to drift apart. Lucille, distancing herself from Sylvie's reputation, and Ruth, spiraling further downward into Sylvie's eccentricity.

    The only way I know how to describe this novel is like a dream done in water colors. "Housekeeping," had a dreamy, outside-of-reality quality. Beautiful and heartbreaking, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a novel that is a break from the ordinary....more info
  • A classic
    An unforgettable book. Subtle and heartbreaking, with surprising humor. My copy is festooned with margin markers, pointing out passages I found breathtaking. The Guardian called it "A strange, haunting, radiant statement about the spirit of place and the transience of life." Couldn't say it any better. ...more info
    I was able to finish this book, unlike Gilead but this author is soooo boring! Will not read another by her, no matter what the reviews!...more info
  • beautiful prose but....
    Housekeeping did not grab me the way Gilead did. (It would be unfair to compare but I had such high expectations after reading Gilead) Firstly Ruthie's story was so sad without being uplifting and in the end ,left me feeling very empty. Then the matter of "water, water everywhere" metaphor,issues of loss and abandonment , I found rather tiresome and repetitive . For me the saving grace was Ms.Robinson's undoubtedly evocative prose - it's lyrical, melancholic and breathtakingly beautiful. I can see that most reviewers have applauded this book, stating it as a classic..... perharps it's just me... i don't quite get it. ...more info
  • Moving and memorable (mostly)
    "Housekeeping" has two themes: memory/loss, and alienation. I think Robinson was clearer and more interesting in her treatment of alienation. Both Sylvie and Ruth can pretend to be normal, but just cannot keep up the pretense without being eventually found out, because they just do not find conventional life satisfying, and also feel it threatens their memories of their lost family members.

    Robinson is fond of long paragraphs full of imagery and detail. For the most part she carries it off, so that the novel does not sink under the weight of the writing, but rather is moving and memorable.
    ...more info
  • A Tragedy Leads Two Children to Make Difficult Life Choices
    This is my second reading of this amazing and powerful book. It is not often that I read a book more than once.

    This novel is about the tragedy that befalls two siblings after their mother's suicide leaves them to live with relatives. Ultimately, they arrive at their aunt's house. Their aunt has been a vagabond, riding trains and living a box-car life. She makes an effort to take care of her two charges but she is not adept at living a mainstream existence. She hoards newpapers, cans and memories. She lives barely on the fringe of what is called 'normal'.

    The two sisters struggle to adapt to her lifestyle and become alienated from each other as one chooses to live a life like their aunt's and the other one settles down to live a lifestyle more acceptable to society.

    This is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read and one of my favorite books....more info
  • A Modern Masterpiece
    I expected great things from Housekeeping and Marilynne Robinson did not disappoint. I read her second novel, Gilead, last year and thoroughly enjoyed it but Housekeeping surpassed it in it's gratifying use of language and description. Robinson has an breathtaking ability to write in a way that is plain but wonderful, in the true sense of the word.

    If you prefer novels with gripping plots, you might find Housekeeping plodding. It's a coming of age story about two sisters, narrated by the older of the two, that centers on loneliness and loss, two centerpieces of the human condition. Despite its themes and dreary setting, I didn't find it to be a depressing book, likely because of the thoughtful, interesting prose and the way the story drew me into Ruthie's world and made me see things from her perspective as the very best novels do.

    The exceptional beauty of this book restored my faith in contemporary literature and gave me hope that great fiction is still being written, but it wasn't lofty or condescending. The sparse simplicity made me want to write, to use the English language, to edit and edit again until I could find a small bit of beauty in my labor and Marilynne Robinson has created on every page. ...more info
  • Highest Praise
    "Housekeeping" is in the handful of my favorite novels. That, of course, is a personal thing. By any standard, though, it is great literature.
    I just finished reading it for the second time. The first was 25 years ago. I thought then that it was one of the best novels I had ever read. I didn't reread it, thus to preserve the first experience of it, and because there were so many other things to be read.
    It stayed on my bookshelf until this week, when its time finally came again. What I had remembered most about it through the years was the beauty of the language.
    In the second reading, the language felt just as wonderful, but I was equally stirred by the genius of the story and magic of the characters. As I read the final chapter, I felt it lingering, and I realized how the book has haunted me all these years.
    I read the same copy as before. Now its brown pages will retire to the bookshelf. I'm here at Amazon to buy a new copy that I can read very slowly, relishing one paragraph at a time. Or I can sail through it, again and again.
    Naturally, I join the many other reviewers who recommend it. I see there are also some who plain don't like it. That's fine. I just hope they have books in their lives that mean as much to them as "Housekeeping" does to me.
    ...more info
  • A Difficult Book To Evaluate
    Robinson's "Housekeeping" is almost impossible to pass a concrete judgement upon. The prose is about as good as it gets. I often found myself rereading passages simply to enjoy the pacing and the beauty with which everything is presented. Unlike other novelists who try to write in such a descriptive-based style, the novel never lets up and every page is a gem in terms of language and the way it can be used.

    But beyond the beautiful writing, something that made me think of Plath's poetry whenever I turned the page (esp. "Ariel"), I didn't find myself caring about any of the characters or the story itself. The back cover did a better job of summarizing the plot than the story itself, which is tragic considering the power of Robinson's prose. The main character Ruthie is a quiet girl who doesn't come across as anything beyond that - quiet. Lucille, her older sister and best friend, is the typical girl who is tired of her small hometown and wishes to escape to a big city. Finally there is Sylvie who is their aunt who cares for them once their grandmother and mother die. The story describes what happens to the three of them and the way that the small town views them and their plight of trying to deal with the tragedies they have faced.

    The plot, other than the wonderfully rendered details such as Sylvie's can collection or the description of the house they live in, leaves much to be desired. I wonder if this novel was simply an exercise in form, one that forgets everything else that would be necessary to keep one's interest.

    So, I would say if you love poetry and language, go on ahead and devour this book, but if you are looking for something to entertain you on the subway or grip you and amaze you, find something else....more info
  • Horrible, horrible read
    Just finished reading this book for a book club I am in and I can honestly say that this is the worst book I have ever read. Urgh! It angers me that I actually spent money on this piece of literary garbage and wasted valuable time reading it.

    I have no idea what , if any plot there was to this book and I could have cared less about any of the characters. Honestly, I think the most interesting character was the grandfather who died in a train accident at the beginning.

    Seriously, what was this supposed to be about? Transients? Mental illness? Suicide? Trains?

    I can't wait for the upcoming book club meeting just so I can finally throw this book in the trash can afterwards....more info
  • Haunting and Elusive
    This is a deeply moving, dense, and dark book about a little girl's struggle to deal with the all-encompassing loneliness that pervades her life after she and her sister are abandoned by their mother. The girl's sense of impermanence and transience is so deep that at times she wonders if she exists at all.

    Ruth and Lucille are about six or seven when their aloof mother borrows a car and drives them to the house of the grandmother they have never met. The mother "stayed only long enough to settle Lucille and [Ruth] on the bench in the screened porch, with a box of graham crackers to prevent conflict and restlessness," before she drove away, and off the edge of a cliff and into the lake that her own father had perished in a spectacular train wreck decades before. For about six or seven years, the girls are cared for by their elderly grandmother, an emotionally absent woman who, out of delicacy or lack or curiosity, never mentions the girls' mother -- or anything else for that matter. When the grandmother dies, the girls are temporarily watched by their anxious and fearful great aunts, who are happy to escape when the girls' aunt -- their mother's transient sister Sylvie -- wanders into the house.

    Sylvie, like the girls' mother and grandmother, is abstracted and absent minded, an outsider who is always just on the brink of escape. The girls become watchful, looking for any sign that she is about to leave and never come back. In the meantime, the girls themselves become more and more invisible, not just to Sylvie but to the community at large. Ruth (unlike Lucille) takes some refuge in her invisibility, since the only alternative seems to be seen and harshly judged. As Ruth explains: "It was a source of both terror and comfort to me that I often seemed invisible -- incompletely and minimally existent, in fact. It seemed to me that I made no impact on the world, and that in exchange, I was privileged to watch it unawares."

    But Ruth is haunted by the reminders and memories of her mother and grandmother, and sometimes even her minimal existence is too much to bear. In an incredibly poignant scene, Ruth and Lucille are forced stay out in the woods on a freezing cold night. As darkness envelopes her and she thinks about her mother, Ruth wonders:

    "[W]hy must we be left, the survivors picking among floatsam, among the small, unnoticed, unvalued clutter that was all that remained when they vanished, that only catastrophe made notable? Darkness is the only solvent. While it was dark, . . . it seemed to me that there need not be relic, remnant, margin, residue, memento, bequest, memory, thought, track or trace, if only the darkness could be perfect and permanent."

    It's hard to describe the emotional impact of this book, or the depth of the impression it makes. The book works on so many levels. The writing is stunningly beautiful, full of recurring evocative images and allusions that Robinson uses to describe the fleeting and elusive nature of memory and the difficulty in finding meaning in a life filled with loss. Despite the density of the language and the themes, the plot moves quickly, and there are moments of humor that lighten the mood. But overall it's a book that makes you want to linger over every paragraph, to parse the elegant prose, and to think about and dissect complex ideas that Robinson presents. ...more info
  • Horrible, horrible read
    Just finished reading this book for a book club I am in and I can honestly say that this is the worst book I have ever read. Urgh! It angers me that I actually spent money on this piece of literary garbage and wasted valuable time reading it.

    I have no idea what , if any plot there was to this book and I could have cared less about any of the characters. Honestly, I think the most interesting character was the grandfather who died in a train accident at the beginning.

    Seriously, what was this supposed to be about? Transients? Mental illness? Suicide? Trains?

    I can't wait for the upcoming book club meeting just so I can finally throw this book in the trash can afterwards....more info
  • Haunting Prose
    Haunting, and maybe haunted, are words that come to mind when I think back on "Housekeeping". Thoughtful and beautiful prose, rather than dramatic and exciting action, are hallmarks of Ms. Robinson's writing, so I never really expected "Chucky" to jump out from behind a tree wielding an axe, but given what happened to narrator Ruth's parents, I could never be sure. "Housekeeping" greatly reminded me of another short classic--"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton. ...more info
  • Mesmerizing
    This is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. Almost poetic, the cadence and richness of the language envelops you like a dream. Though the fascinating story line made me want to hurry through, again and again I found myself stopping to savor a sentence that seemed particularly true or meaningful. I don't usually re-read novels, but this one is staying on my bedside table, for I'm sure I will want to experience its richness again....more info
  • Nothing happens
    I read about half the book and nothing happened. Robinson's writing is intense and lyrical but also boring. It just went on and on and on and on...

    This is an extremely slow moving book, I was waiting for the plot to develop but it seemed like much of the book was the backstory. Don't waste your time. ...more info
  • A long and boring waste
    I can't believe people liked this writing. I need a period now and then. Long, rambling piles of meaningless words that lent nothing to the story. I wish it had been a library book instead of a waste of my Kindle selections....more info
  • A Revenant Primer
    Housekeeping is a marvelous little ghost story, or more exactly, the story of how our narrator, Ruthie Stone, becomes a little ghost. Robinson goes about making Ruthie a ghost in three ways: Isolation, habit, and fear of the "other world".

    Isolation. Robinson throws our narrator, Ruthie, into geographically isolated Fingerbone on the far side of a large lake---perhaps on the shore of Idaho's Lake Pend Oreille which also is crossed by a long railroad bridge. Robinson then ruthlessly purges Ruthie's immediate family by either abandonment (father, Lily and Nona) or death (grandmother, mother). Ruthie compounds her own isolation when she states, "We had never really had any use for friends ...." Astonishing---having no use for friends and Robinson's use of the extra `had'. Robinson's last sadistic separation comes when her sister, Lucille, abandons Ruthie for the "other world" and leaves Ruthie alone in the house with crazyass Aunt Sylvie.

    Habit. When Sylvie arrives she is already a ghost and she becomes Ruthie's mentor, teaching her how to get along without work, purpose, food, money, sex or even being warm and dry. The lake also helps teach Ruthie these habits, as Robinson makes the lake a character and has it move into the house a week after Sylvie.

    Fear of the "other world". The "other world" is the normal world other Fingerboners live in. The "other world" took Lucille! It is going to break up my "family"! The ghostly drift is accelerated by Robinson's cunning intrusion of "the other world" into her fairy tale: there are people at school inquiring, they are looking on from the orchard's edge, now they are peering in at the windows, someone is on the porch and already knocking at the door: and by the time the neighborhood's elderly ladies are sitting in the living room observing the cats and cans and stacks of periodicals, our little ghost can only react by setting fire to the house and vanishing. (Incidental note: I propose the Simplified Robinson Rule as a test of a person's sanity: If the number of semi-feral animals pooping in your house exceeds one, we should call for the police. Really, the only good place for a cat is in a barn.)

    Along the way to dispensing full-fledged ghostification, Robinson gets to have some philosophic fun; for only a ghost can take seriously the Platonic claim that we remember things from before we are born; or take seriously the useless Cartesian appearance-reality dualism; and find Cartesian skepticism as not skepticism at all but simply common (ghost) sense.

    Robinson's themes stick in your head: the dogs, the windows, the railroad, the vortex, the ice, the cold---always the cold. Ruthie's encounters with the lake yield the most poetic prose, like the following which is as beautiful as the lake, and connects the lake to Ruthie's house:

    "Only out beyond these two reaches of land could we see the shimmer of open lake. The sheltered water between them was glossy, dark, and rank, with cattails at its verge and water lilies in its shadows, and tadpoles, and minnows, and farther out, the plosh now and then of a big fish leaping after flies. Set apart from the drifts and tides and lucifactions of the open water, the surface of the bay seemed almost viscous, membranous, and here things massed and accumulated, as they do in cobwebs or in the eaves and unswept corners of a house. It was a place of distinctly domestic disorder, warm and still and replete."

    Robinson's one artistic misstep was the inexplicable injection of Cain, Rachel, Job and Absalom into the narrative. I am positive they were wondering what they were doing there too. And I have one meta-structural quibble: Why would a ghost---or drifter, if you will---write this story?

    In sum, good structure, often beautiful prose. Robinson writes with intelligence, although I would welcome it if she cracked a joke at least every hundred pages or so....more info