One of the best novels I've read in a long time. The language is so poetic it draws you into a strange haunting world some where between dream and waking experience. Can't wait to read her later novels!
I was a little worried when I began reading this book that it would prove to be disappointing, after all the plaudits I knew it had received. I'd really been looking forward to reading it, probably more than with any novel I've read. But I was pleased to find that it really was worthy of the praise, though it's a very subdued, quiet sort of excellence, with an ethereal quality that grows on you as you read.
The story, about two sisters who fall under the care of a mildly-loopy aunt in the remote north of Idaho, after their mother drowns herself in the lake that claimed the life of her father, is only part of the appeal. Marilynne Robinson is known for the beauty of her prose, with good reason, though she keeps her books quite short so there's none of that feeling you get with Proust, for example, that reaching the end will be a considerable achievement. This book deserves its new-found status as a classic of American literature.
The beauty and rhythm of Robinson's prose often approaches poetry as she weaves her magical spell of landscape and feeling. This is an intensely lyrical book, but I could find only two instances throughout where the language seemed foregrounded for effect. For most of this narrative the beauty of the prose seems an effortless part of the whole and this makes the novel an extremely profound experience.
A settler family, grandfather, grandmother, three daughters, live lives of quiet and stoically-borne privation. Then the grandfather, a railway clerk is killed when the express steam train falls from the bridge high above the local river and the grandmother continues alone, caring for her children. One by one the children leave. The eldest to work as a missionary in China, the middle child marries and the third child, Sylvie, disappears. The middle daughter, Frances, has two daughters, but then her husband leaves her. Loading up the children in a friend's borrowed car she takes them to visit her mother. Arriving at the house to find her mother gone to work, she settles the children to wait outside and drives away. When she comes to the shore of the river she drives straight in.
The two children, Ruth and Lucille remain with their grandmother and go to the local school. When their grandmother dies two aunts come to stay to look after them, but they are city women and afraid of the countryside, especially when the flooding that perpetually threatens the small township and its environs, becomes worse that year than ever before. They send for the children's aunt, Sylvie, who has led an itinerant life as a drifter. Sylvie is different from the townspeople. She has odd domestic habits and does not mix. But there are compensations, for Ruth in particular, as Sylvie takes their mother's place.
There are journeys, partings, a night of fear and wonder, much more to this book than the outline above can convey. It is a book full of treasures and troubles, trials and triumphs. It is a quietly beautiful masterpiece.
If you enjoy literature and you have not yet read Marilynne Robinson's 'Housekeeping', order a copy right away. It has been described by one critic as 'probably among the best 100 novels ever written'. I am generally sceptical of comments of this kind but I concur with this one. It is one of those rare novels that alters your mind in a significant way. It is riveting, profound, subtle, sad and beautiful. I had the rare privilege of meeting Marilynne Robinson yesterday at the Reader Organisation's conference on 'Getting into Reading'in New Brighton. She is as I expected: illuminating, gracious and distinctly lacking in the egotistical thrust of most modern authors in their public personae. Enjoy!
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.
Lucille and Ruth, who is the narrator of this novel, have been orphaned and are being cared for haphazardly by various female members of their family when their aunt Sylvie, who is a drifter, becomes their carer. The live together in the family home in the town of Fingerbone which is almost surrounded by water - water has taken the lives of previous family members. Sylvie is not a born housekeeper or guardian and the two sisters grow up strangely, fitting in nowhere - one sister takes to this way of life and the other finds it more difficult and finds her own way forward.
This is a strange but compelling book. It is full of images of water and eventually the water that killed the family members will try and overcome this little family too. The book is a little detached from reality and everything just a bit exaggerated but we can also see and understand that the women in this family are trying to live their own lives away from their traditional roles but that it isn't always easy. The tensions between the different ways of living are interesting and I am absolutely sure that I would not like to live as the sisters do with Sylvie yet I understand that this may be comfortable for her and them.
It is difficult to describe this book because the key to it is the writing which is elegant and clever. I am also not entirely sure what the message is, if any, that the author is putting across unless it is that we must all do our own thing and what way of life suits us best. Nevertheless I very much enjoyed this book and maybe a future rereading will reveal more of the author's purpose to me.
This book creates a magical, almost dreamy atmosphere, and certain sections are very poetic. It follows the lives of two girls who are orphaned and looked after by their aunt, who was formerly a vagrant. Set in the lakes, the scenery is described beautifully. Emotionally very intelligent - it was easy to empathise with the characters. It is a short book, which is a shame. I read this book years ago, and it remains the best book I have ever read.
I had to purchase this book for a creative writing course I was taking at the time. This book is a headbanger and you need a lot (and stress a lot) of patients as its a very slow read. Its almost poetic and by the end I really didn't see the point in it and to be honest didn't really care what happened to the main characters! The only reason I'm giving it a two star is because there are some text/dialogue that are just beautifully written other than that have an hanger over instead!
This is an extremely well written book. The descriptive style is of such a high standard and so impressive for a first book. There is no getting away from the fact that this is a great piece of writing. However, I found the pace of the book to be a little slow and a little bit of a depressing story.
Lucille and Ruth are two sisters who are raised by a succession of relatives after their mother's death. They live in a remote town called Fingerbone and never seem to quite fit in with the other residents of the town. Their family are considered a little odd. A little quirky. When their aunt Sylvie comes into their lives and takes over their guardianship their lives take on a whole new dimension. Aunt Sylvie has lead a transient lifestyle for many years and appears to be extremely eccentric, although there is obviously an underlying reason in the book which I won't go into too much detail about for fear of spoiling the story. Suffice to say, its really up to the reader to make their own judgements as to why Sylvie acts as she does, but I'd say its fairly obvious.
The railroad and the lake in the town seem to affect every aspect of Ruth and Lucille's life, their past and their future and both also play a recurrrent theme throughout the book. Whilst I found this a slow story, others reading it may enjoy the pace of the book. I found that the story left me feeling a little sad. Perhaps that was the authors intention?