Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Date: 2005 (1980)
Summary: Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and Lucille, orphans growing up in the small desolate town of Fingerbone in the vast northwest of America. Abandoned by a succession of relatives, the sisters find themselves in the care of Sylvie, the remote and enigmatic sister of their dead mother. Steeped in imagery of the bleak wintry landscape around them, the sisters’ struggle towards adulthood is powerfully portrayed in a novel about loss, loneliness and transience.
I was recommended this book by a friend last year and I’m so glad I picked it up because it is a beautiful and heartbreaking story. I’ll be the person recommending it to everyone I meet in the future because it’s just that good. I wanted to mention that I was recommended this because there is no way I would have chosen to read this myself. It isn’t the type of book I’d usually go for and the summary doesn’t do it justice at all. Housekeeping has opened my eyes to the wonderful books I may be missing out on and it has encouraged me to read more widely. You never know when you’ll find a new favourite book. Anyways, on to the actual review!
I find it difficult to review books that I love to the degree that I love Housekeeping because I just don’t know where to start. Housekeeping is a beautiful tale of loss, abandonment, and growth. It tells the story of two young girls, Ruthie and Lucille , who are brought up by a series of eccentric relatives after being abandoned by their mother. The women in their life try their best but each guardian has their own issues and the two girls tend to look after themselves and one another. The story is actually rather simple with complexities woven into the melancholic plot. It is the characters and their individual stories, and the ways that they shape Ruthie and Lucille, that brings this story to life. There are moments of chaos and despair and terror within the book but the true driving force of the narrative are the ever-present feelings of sadness and hope.
Every single main character was complicated and flawed and stunningly constructed. All of these women were so realistic and I found myself drawn into their world and their family. Small interactions and gestures mean so much in this book as each woman and girl finds it difficult to express what she truly feels and desires. It was fascinating to read along as their loving, yet strained relationships developed and crumbled throughout the book.
Robinson’s writing is exquisite. I fell in love with the narrative voice within a couple of lines and I knew that Robinson’s writing would haunt me after finishing the first chapter. I thought the narration style (and some other aspects of Robinson’s writing) felt familiar and then I read that Robinson was inspired by transcendentalist writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson. This influence is very evident in the relationship that Ruthie, and Lucille to a lesser extent, has with the natural world of Fishbourne and Robinson describes nature in such a stunning way. It’s both welcoming and terrifying. Almost sublime, in Burke’s sense of the word. Robinson’s writing is very sophisticated but it has a raw edge to it, an edge that is full of emotion, that draws you in. I felt comforted and uncomfortable while reading this book and I think that’s due to the power of Robinson’s writing.
Overall, this book is heart-breaking and yet so beautiful! I think this story, the characters, and Robinson’s writing will haunt me for a while. I’d highly recommend reading it.
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