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121 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlike any novel I've ever read
This book revolves around two sisters, Ruthie and Lucille, told from Ruthie's point of view. After their mother abandons them on their grandmother's doorstep, they are raised by the grandmother, then by her two sisters-in-law, and finally by their Aunt Sylvie, who always seems about to join up with her mind, which is always somewhere else.

The plot of the book...
Published on February 7, 2005 by Debbie the Book Devourer

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81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but tedious
I read Gilead a while ago and loved it. Its language was beautiful and haunting, the story tender and heart-breaking. Housekeeping was different. It also has beautiful language, but that is where the similarities end. I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I did not like about this novel and the answer finally came to me: it has no plot. It has no...
Published on May 28, 2008 by M. Gibson


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121 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlike any novel I've ever read, February 7, 2005
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
This book revolves around two sisters, Ruthie and Lucille, told from Ruthie's point of view. After their mother abandons them on their grandmother's doorstep, they are raised by the grandmother, then by her two sisters-in-law, and finally by their Aunt Sylvie, who always seems about to join up with her mind, which is always somewhere else.

The plot of the book is hardly the point, however. The words are. Reading this book was like looking at an impressionist painting or living inside someone's dream or reading her mind. Words and sentences on their own don't seem to make much sense, but in the context of the larger work, they swirl to form feelings, images, dreams, fears, and thoughts, bouncing from one to another to form a narrative whole. The resulting picture is utterly stunning, dripping with metaphor and stacked in layers.

This is one of the most skillfully written books I've ever read. Aside from a couple passages I found hard to get through, the book captivated me completely from beginning to end. Read it slowly to enjoy every word.
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231 of 244 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectually demanding, January 25, 2006
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
I am somewhat amused by the clear split between the reviews posted here: either the readers loved it or absolutely despised it. There is very little middle ground. This book is clearly difficult - I'm an avid reader, hold a degree in Comparative Literature and am an English teacher and I found myself reaching for the dictionary often. This is not a book to take lightly. It is not a novel that should be read as a simple fiction. This novel requires a lot of mental involvement and you will be exposed to different ideas, ideas that many people seem to find off-putting. It is so well written that you could, if you wished, fly through it quickly but I don't recommend it. Slow down and savor the words and phrasing and analyze the characters. This book is about a family trying to survive and cope with death and permanence. It is a slice of the darker side of life that most people wish to ignore. Yes, it's painful at times but most lessons tend to be so. It's a book about survival and trying to find a place in society; or whether you want to be a part of that society or not.

Housekeeping is not light entertainment. You will have to work and study it but it is so beautifully written that it is a joy. Settle down with your dictionary and enjoy it. I know I did.
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130 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiction as reverie, September 10, 2004
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
This is certainly one of the most well written books in English published in the second half of the 20th century. Robinson has only written this novel, but unlike many first published novels, esp. by American women writers in the past few decades, Robinson has written a mature, flawless piece of fiction that never collapses into a confessional narrative; she doesn't fall prey to the hypersensitive, victimized "I." Her story is straightforward enough--a simple plot, very American, of repetition and distillation from one generation to another--two sisters, two sisters, two sisters. It is her language that is remarkable--there are passages so lyrical, yet tolerably lyrical, that I dare you to read them without feeling movement within yourself--the frozen sea shift about. My father read it, and said to me that it was "too sad, nearly unbearably sad." But it is only sad because it is so resonant--it conjures living using language in a way that persuades the reader to be present in the world, with its smells, noises, textures, shadows, tastes. A brilliant, nearly perfect novel.
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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Meditation on Impermanence, June 7, 2005
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This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
I ordered this book after listening to a program about it on NPR's Diane Rehm Show. I fully agree with the radio commentators on the quality of Robinson's writing and the richness of her imagery. As urged by Doris Lessing (in a review quoted on the jacket), I read this slowly and then more slowly, and will probably return to it again, but unlike several other readers I did not find it heavy going, for its essence does not lie in its plot but in the enfolding and refolding of its thoughts.

A difficult book to understand? Yes surely. But very unusually in my experience, the jacket blurb includes a phrase which provides the perfect key to reading this book: "the dangerous and deep undertow of transience." It is, in fact, a meditation on impermanence, and it operates on a plane of recurrent and beautifully crafted imagery whose overall effect is almost surreal and certainly spiritual. The facts of this particular story are unimportant compared to the sense that everything we have and are in this world, and all the "housekeeping" we frantically undertake to keep hold of it, are temporary at best. I have certainly felt this myself, and I am not depressed but consoled to know that others understand this too.

Robinson's beautiful writing does have another side to it, however. Unlike other books about childhood, this one is narrated in a voice of exquisite sophistication. But the authorial voice does not square with what we know of the education and later life of the heroine, giving a self-conscious air to its artifice, despite the manifest poetic talent of the writer. Read as a sustained prose poem, however, the book is nothing less than superb, a minor masterpiece.

[Thinking again about this book a year after reading it, I also recognize that, although the details of its plot may vanish, it is one of those rare novels whose atmosphere and message grow and deepen in the memory, long after one has laid it down.]
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81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but tedious, May 28, 2008
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
I read Gilead a while ago and loved it. Its language was beautiful and haunting, the story tender and heart-breaking. Housekeeping was different. It also has beautiful language, but that is where the similarities end. I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what I did not like about this novel and the answer finally came to me: it has no plot. It has no substance. It had immense potential to be great, but for me, it fell utterly flat. Let me be clear, the language is BEAUTIFUL. There are passages on practically every page that made me breathless with the beautiful and creative wordplay of Ms. Robinson, but it was not enough to push the narrative forward on its own. I understand the symbolism, the allusions, etc. of the novel, but I also want the plot to move the story along, not the descriptions of a place alone. I want characters that I come to care about to push the story onward, I want a climax, I want to care about what happens to them on the next page, and sadly, I did not.

One could say that the lack of any feeling the reader had for the characters was the author's way of getting the reader to feel the lack of love and caring that the girls experienced in their own family. If so, I get it, but I wanted to made to feel that, even if their own family didn't care about them, I did. But that is not what happened. I simply stopped caring.

It just felt to me that the author used the idea of these two girls and their awkward, off-beat, tragic family as a vehicle for her magnificent use of the English language. And magnificent though it was, the story got bogged down with all of that lavish description, and I wanted more than that. I wanted substance.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel for other writers to devour more than once..., April 3, 2005
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
"Housekeeping" was assigned reading for a literature class, and although the title seemed less than interesting to me, I have been raving about the novel to anyone who will listen since I read it over a year ago. Robinson has such a natural talent with descriptive writing that the story, with its sad commentary on society's treatment of women who walk over the edge of "propriety," flows like beautiful poetry even in the face of depression and loss. It was a joy to read, and although I don't read novels more than once, I will be reading this again just to experience the language and to make sure I captured every detail.

This is not a book for those looking for a quick, light, non-thinking read or happy endings. This one is for those who seriously love good classic novels and reading for the joy of reading.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something Wonderful, April 16, 2005
By 
Anna Graham (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
Housekeeping is like a beautiful piece of music -- moody, evocative, intelligent, emotional, imaginative.... The author took many years to write the book, and on the one hand, you can sense that effort in that every single word seems exactly perfect; on the other, the writing feels so seamless you'd almost think it appeared in one extraordinary vision. This is the kind of book that makes you jealously wish that you knew how to write this beautifully, but also makes you feel grateful that someone else does.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely beautiful; one of my favorites, April 23, 2005
By 
K. A Brown (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
I just read this book a second time, and it still holds a place in my top five favorite books. It is beautifully written, somewhat sad, with very strong characters that you feel like you know at the end of the book. There is a movie from 1988, which is outstanding, one of the closest book-to-movie conversions that I have ever seen (I highly recommend it if you can find it). Having grown up in a severely dysfunctional family, then in foster homes, then with a series of equally dysfunctional relatives, this book and the plight of the two girls really spoke to me.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and lucid masterpiece., November 3, 2002
By 
KateMc "katemc" (San Francisco, ca United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Hardcover)
There are maybe nine books - out of thousands read as an English major and avid lifelong reader -- that I hold in true reverence and Housekeeeping is one of them. As someone who usually consumes books at the rate of 2 a week, this book turned the tables: it consumed me and I've been haunted by it ever since.
The language - exquisite and clear as crystal - is perfectly married to chronicling the interior worlds of loss and longing, rendered with such precision and depth that you recognize them as your own. I'm not a sentimental person in the least, but I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the poignancy of passages which express, better than anywhere else in prose, the human search to be known and understood. Like others, I also found myself reading slower and slower - not merely to postpone the inevitable, but because the writing is so densely beautiful that each sentence is worthy of marvel, so effortlessly poetic and precise as to be almost supernatural.
I've watched and waited nearly 20 years for this author to produce another book, but perhaps this is one of those doubly rare occurances - a perfect novel written by someone who was destined to produce a singular work of transcendent beauty and truth.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic, August 5, 2005
By 
Ratmammy "The Ratmammy" (Ratmammy's Town, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Housekeeping: A Novel (Paperback)
HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson

Amazon rating 4/5

HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson is what I'd call a modern classic. Beautifully written, it's the story of two sisters who are raised in a non-conventional family in Fingerbone Lake, Idaho. Ruth is the narrator of this depressing morose novel, the older sister who often seemed to take on the role of the younger sibling. The girls do not know who their father is. Their mother is in their lives for a very short time, a free-spirited woman who suffers from bouts of depression. They are successively raised by their maternal grandmother, Sylvia Foster, Sylvia's two elderly sisters-in-law, and finally their Aunt Sylvie, their mother's sister.

The novel opens with a brief history of their family, telling the tale of their grandfather who died tragically in a train crash at Fingerbone Lake. This lake becomes a character unto itself, helping to set the tone of the book. It seems to be the center of their world, having taken their grandfather, and later, their mother. One of the main themes of this novel is death and impermanence, the two girls never really having true stability in their lives. They do see some stability with their grandmother Sylvia, but this is undone when Sylvie takes over, a woman who seems to want to live the life of a transient.

HOUSEKEEPING is a very difficult book to read, but at the same time, I was drawn to it for the beautiful writing and the complexity of the characters. Ruth, the narrator, seems to become more and more like Sylvie, her Aunt, while her sister struggles to find some normalcy in their lives. The underlying question could be "what is considered normal", and who is to judge one family to the next? I personally had a hard time with the character of Sylvie, who was obviously mentally not all there, yet was put in charge of these two adolescents who obviously needed a more structured type of lifestyle.

HOUSEKEPEEING was Marilynne Robinson's debut novel, written 20 years ago. Most may find this novel a laborious read, but I believe if one can be open-minded enough, the reader will truly see the beauty of this book.
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Housekeeping: A Novel
Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson (Paperback - November 1, 2004)
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