Housekeeping: A Novel Paperback – November 1, 2004
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“So precise, so distilled, so beautiful that one doesn't want to miss any pleasure it might yield.” ―Le Anne Schreiber, The New York Times Book Review
“Here's a first novel that sounds as if the author has been treasuring it up all her life...You can feel in the book a gathering voluptuous release of confidence, a delighted surprise at the unexpected capacities of language, a close, careful fondness for people that we thought only saints felt.” ―Anatole Broyard, The New York Times
“I found myself reading slowly, than more slowly--this is not a novel to be hurried through, for every sentence is a delight.” ―Doris Lessing
About the Author
MARILYNNE ROBINSON is the author of the novel Gilead and two books of nonfiction, Mother Country and The Death of Adam. She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
- Publisher : Picador; First edition (November 1, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 219 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0312424094
- ISBN-13 : 978-0312424091
- Item Weight : 6.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.54 x 0.59 x 8.29 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #158,629 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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I've read reviews about the book, both here and on other sites, and it seems that you either love it or hate it. I think that one of the reasons some people dislike the book is because Robinson does not precisely reveal the message to be taken away from it, forcing the reader to extrapolate meaning, which allows for varying interpretations that I believe may have to do with how engaged one is with the novel. I've had some people describe it to me as being a book about mental illness, and there were moments that I too wondered whether Sylvie was mentally ill, but after thinking over it, I've decided that this is too simple a reading. The book is full of movement, of depictions of the transitory state of the world, but in this state of constant change, there are resonances left behind and new revelations to be revealed. I have read that Robinson was greatly influenced by the transcendentalist who believed that heavenly revelation is not merely confined to the past but still takes place in the present. This may be why the novel has this searching characteristic to it, why Sylvie cannot find contentment in a sedentary existence, and why Ruth in the end too seems to long to wander this world. Housekeeping appears to be a metaphor for forcing and maintaining structure that is unnatural to our state of impermanency.
This is a book about transience, family, and memory all bleeding together, about static society attempting to constrain a nonstatic world, and about the pressures of conformity and normalcy when the world is still in flux. One of the things I like best about the book is that the subject matter can be heavy, but it is written with a light touch and in sentences that seem to move like a wave across the page.
The upside: The characters are riveting and blossom with authenticity. I never for a moment doubted that Ruthie, Lucille, Helen, Grandma, and Sylvie were real and whole. I cared about them and finished the book because I wanted to find out how things turned out for them.
The downside: The use of metaphor and simile is wildly overblown. Not only is it constant, but the individual instances are so stretched and difficult that I found it impossible to visualize the authors meaning a great deal of the time. This made the book more like modern poetry than prose and very difficult poetry at that, and a horrific slog to get through. I found myself constantly asking :"What the bleep is THAT supposed to mean? So I ended up admiring the book much more than I liked it, in spite of the characters.
The story revolves around three generations of women in a single family. There are parts of this novel I really enjoyed very much. It is extremely well written, however it is not always an "easy read". There were some phisophical passages that I really struggled to follow. This is not necessarily a criticism. But as a reviewer, I feel the need to advise a person looking for a relatively simple, enjoyable reading experience, this was not always the case for me.
According to Wikipedia, in 2003 The Guardian Unlimited named "Housekeeping" one of the 100 greatest novels of all time. Years ago I had set upon a quest to read the 100 greatest novels ever written. I found there are many such lists with some, but really little, consensus. I have read hundreds of novels pursuing this quest. With the greatest possible respect to Miss Robinson, this novel does not make my list, although it is a really quality work. It may be simply too sophisticated for me. Thank You...
Top reviews from other countries
I enjoyed this a lot in 2007, but re-reading it now as a book-group choice, I found it a good example of how the same book can captivate at one time and not at another. It is beautifully written, but its tone and mindset are precisely those I am currently taking pains to hold at bay. In busy, crowded times of social noise and accompanying obligations and stresses, the protagonist’s dreamy, at times hallucinatory, passive withdrawal into silence, nostalgia, mystical thinking and eventual vagrancy would be soothing and mesmerising. In my current extended self-isolation from the pandemic, it actually lowered my mood, I skimmed rather than savoured, and turned the last page with relief.
Don’t let me put you off. It is a beautiful book. Just choose your psychological moment to read it
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.
Marilynne Robinson is such a gifted, talented and insightful writer whose books I do, for the most part, thoroughly enjoy and appreciate her ability to draw a story out.
I did find it hard though, at times, to persevere with this book. It just seemed to go on and on for far too long before getting to what it seemingly was setting out to express on a number of occasions throughout the book.
I am glad I persevered though because of the after effect of having read it. Which is often the way with her writings.
It is quite a harrowing tale really of events which take place down the line of one family, all involving some form of abandonment of being left behind through an accidental or suicidal death by a parent or a child and the long term effects that this has on different members of the family through the years.
A slow burn but worth it in the end of you can persevere.