This perhaps one of the most haunting, memorable and beautiful books written in the last century. It is also a strange book, and a mysterious one that will live with you afterwards and repays subsequent readings. It is a book like no other. Of no great size, it can be read in an afternoon, but is dense and complex,like the best poetry.
'Housekeeping' is actually about the abandonment of keeping house because keeping house is presented in the book to be a hopeless task. Time and change are far more powerful. It is far better, we are told to live lightly, to try to keep nothing, to be attached to nothing, because, as Sylvie says, 'in the end even our bones fail'.
Two little girls are abandoned by their mother, a suicide, and taken care of by her sister, their Aunt Sylvie who is a drifter, but shoulders the responsibility of the children the best she can. Gradually, and this is beautifully evoked, she allows the house to be invaded by the natural world, to decay and the girls to drift, give up school,regular meals, abandon contact with the small town where they live on the edge of great lake. The lake itself is an ominous presence in its vast depths and darkness. Ruth follows her aunt's example but Lucille wants a different, more conventional life and leaves the other two to their own mysterious ways, their love of solitude and preoccupations with the woods, the lake and the railway.
It is hard to do justice to the detail of the writing, its poetic quality and the haunting images and ideas that emerge from the story. I suppose the main theme is transience, the idea that nothing lasts, and that keeping house is a futile activity so it is better to accept this and find pleasure in the passing, the fleeting. This may sound to be a negative idea but it really isn't. The book asks you searching philosophical questions about the nature of reality and provides no easy answers. But it will change you and images will stay with you ever after.