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on July 24, 2008
At best I'd rate this book as OK. It beats "Gilead" by a longshot. Provides a moderate amount of interesting material to talk about if you're in a book club. But beyond that the writing is pretentious and sounds like someone trying too hard to write something "important." To me the most frustrating aspect of the book is the tendency for overwritten, maudlin passages. The narrator is supposed to be a young woman who dropped out of school. Yet the book consistently showcases passages like this:

"So a diaspora threatened always. And there is no living creature, though the whims of eons had put its eyes on boggling stalks and clapped it in a carapace, diminished it to a pinpoint and given it a taste for mud and stuck it down a well or hid it under a stone, but that creature will live on if it can." (Robinson, p. 178)

"My ravishers left their traces in me, male and female, and over the months I rounded, grew heavy, until the scandal could no longer be concealed and oblivion expelled me. But this I have in common with all my kind. By some bleak alchemy what had been mere unbeing becomes death when life is mingled with it." (Robinson, p. 215)

This kind of writing isn't realistic and doesn't fit the character at all. The book should have been written from the third person point of view -- which is how it sounds anyway. If you can get past the melodramatic, "I've-got-a-thesaurus-and-I'm-not-afraid-to-use-it" writing style you may enjoy this book.

There are certainly some interesting characters in this book (particularly as compared to Gilead). But unfortunately they're not given more time. In particular the character of Sylvie and the town sheriff are the most interesting. I think a better story would have been built around them...or they could have been given more time in the story.
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on May 26, 2005
Have you ever had one of those meals in which you savor every bite and watch with growing dread as the portion shrinks from your plate? Well Housekeeping is the literary equivalent of such a meal. Robinson's language is rich, dynamic and filled with such incredible beauty that I found myself pestering my poor husband by reading selections prefaced by phrases like, "Oh... listen to this, it's soooooooo beautiful." He listened dutifully and remarked that I, ordinarily a fast reader, was taking my time with this book. I was - and for good reason: Housekeeping is a novel to be savored. But it is more than that - it is genuinely a good story. While not terribly fast-paced or action-packed, it is a delicate character study that intimately engages the reader to a variety of characters. Virtually every character fascinated me on some level: Ruthie, Lucille, their dead mother, their pair of elderly aunts, Sylvie and even the town of Fingerbone itself is a richly drawn character. While I'll admit, it helps that I have lived in the Pacific Northwest and have an affinity for the landscape; familiarity with Idaho is by no means a requirement to enjoy this book. Housekeeping is simply a novel to savor, love and enjoy.
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VINE VOICEon January 30, 2009
This is a book that is flooded with descriptions, imagery, and contemplation that can, from sentence to sentence, seem odd, difficult, and overwritten and then insightful, lyrical, and poetic. The central character is Sylvie, a thirty-something female, who has returned to Fingerbone, an obscure western town set on a large lake, to care for her two nieces who have lost both their grandmother and mother. The story is told from the standpoint of Ruthie, one of the girls.

A heavy cloud hands over the entire book as death, impermanence, the power of water and the wind, cold weather, forests, mud, deprivation, and the like are constants in this rather gloomy story. It is a formidable environment that Sylvie and Ruthie, largely unsuccessfully, attempt to navigate, including social expectations and illusions. Despite an unspecified life of trouble, there is a strength and resoluteness to Sylvie that resonates.

The plot is minimal. The characters serve as a means for the author to develop her themes. The book is difficult and tedious with digressions interlaced throughout, not to mention getting past the author's obscure word choices, yet there is brilliance on most every page.
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on October 26, 2002
A tale of loss and longing set in the lakeside town of Fingerbone, Housekeeping is the story of a pair of sisters born into a tragic, quirky family. Their father drowns, their mother commits suicide, and they are passed into the care of their grandmother. After her death, and a short spell with a couple virgin great-aunts, their aunt Sylvie arrives. Sylvie is a vagrant, a person for whom life is lived from conversation to conversation, from parkbench to train station. She reveres the ephemeral, and is uneasy with keeping house and abiding by the unspoken rules of the town of Fingerbone. She is also one of the great characters in American fiction. Slowly Ruth, the awkward sister, falls under Sylvie's spell, while Lucille rebels and tries to enter normality.
This is a beautiful book, an unsung American classic, told in prose as limpid as meltwater. You will want to read it again and again, pulling it closer to your heart.
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on June 15, 2001
Housekeeping is undoubtedly an excellent novel. The beautiful language and intriguing setting draw the reader in immediately and the story seems to flow just like the river that is always present in the story's undercurrents. It is almost a dreamy book; it just sort of seeps into your brain through osmosis and dances around and fills you sometimes with so much beauty that you find yourself crying for no reason. Robinson has truly mastered writing. This book is funny, serious, and thought-provoking all at once. The book ends beautifully too. The water seems to be balanced by a breeze, a drift, a ghostly feeling that something is there one minute and gone the next. This aura the novel acheives further drives home its poignant truths about the force of transience. Housekeeping reminds all of us of the undertows in our lives that we cannot escape, but it also emphasizes the values of having a family, even a dysfunctional one (and really, is there any other kind?)and an individual to confide in, look up to, and respect. Truly a beautiful book.
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on January 1, 2000
Ruthie and her sister live by a frozen lake in Northern Idaho, a lake that swallowed her grandfather in a dramatically retold train wreck. Passed from mother to grandmother, from a pair of aunts to another aunt, these girls shakily inhabit a world of women. Their balance is further disrupted by the appearance of their aunt Sylvie, a woman who rides the rails to Idaho in order to care for them. Sylvie is a wild thing. She saves trash, refuses to wear socks, sleeps on benches. She seems unbalanced, but she is following a baffling internal logic that makes perfect sense to her. Ruthie hears the call of freedom as personified by her aunt Sylvie, while her sister simply wants to be normal.The sisters are in a sense two halves of a whole. The pain of each girl as they pull apart is considerable and unavoidable. The final actions of this novel, in which Sylvie leads Ruth through a series of tests to see if she can escape the gravity of housekeeping, are as crystalline pure as the air of the region in which this story takes place. The beauty of this book lies in more than the poetry of the prose. It lies in its elegaic treatment of vagrancy.
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on May 30, 2002
A ton of people love this book...but a small minority does not. I'm afraid I belong with the latter. The first two chapters were almost unreadably slow, though things did pick up both emotionally and plotwise as the book went on. There's no doubt that it's well-written -- Robinson's prose is at turns lyrical and stark, but I never felt involved with any of the characters. It wasn't exactly that they weren't believable, but rather that their motivations were never made clear.
But as you can see from the other glowing reviews, my reaction is atypical. You may very well love this book -- but just in case you don't, you're not alone!
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on August 21, 2006
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.
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on October 5, 2002
Upfront let me state that I think "Housekeeping" is a book worth reading. The writing is lyrical, profound and often awe-inspiring. This is the story of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille. The death of their mother has forced them to live with a series of relatives, each of whom has moved into the family home. The final relative to arrive on the scene is their Aunt Sylvie, a non-conforming drifter whose eccentricities make her suitability as a mother figure questionable at best. She collects garbage in the living room, rarely cooks or cleans, doesn't care whether the girl's attend school, and likes to ride the rails. Lucille yearns for a "normal" life and eventually rebels against and leaves this unconventional household. Ruth seems to lose herself and her pain in this strange lifestyle, and becomes Sylvie's soulmate. This novel is a complex examination of what constitues a "normal" homelife, and how our society places much credence on outward appearances, often caring little for what goes on behind closed doors until it may be too late. While I believe Sylvie was a caring figure, I also believe she was not the best choice to raise these children, and ultimately they paid the price for that. This is not a happy story with a tidy ending, so if you like your fiction that way this is likely not the book for you. However, if you are willing to think beyond the box for a few hours you will be rewarded with a rich reading experience.
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on January 21, 2005
Marilynne Robinson has a gift with writing that is at once haunting, lyrical and wonderfly evocative. Her story of a family living in a remote part of Idaho is in moving but also very sad. I noticed the bookjacket had many reviews commenting on the "humor" in the book and while there is some humor, overall, the story of 2 sisters who become orphans and are eventually cared for by a transient aunt who is mentally ill, made me very sad. The descriptions of the terrain and town where the story takes place are incredibly well done. In some ways, the description reminded me of the book "My Antonia" by Willa Cather. The book moves somewhat slowly due to the description but a second re-reading of many of the lines bring out just how talented a writer Robinson is. What Robinson also has talent for is the ability to describe the interior life and how we never truly know what goes on in others lives by looking at them from without.

This is a remarkable novel and the only reason I rated it a 4 and not a 5 is that I was a little unsettled by the "celebration" of Sylvie's lifestyle and character when it was clear that her actions were hurtful to the two sisters.
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