Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Housekeeping

By Marilynne Robinson
Picador 1980
219 pages
From the library

Ruth and her sister Lucille live in the dreary town of Fingerbone. Their lives are upended by the appearance and disappearance of the women of their family – their mother, grandmother, great-aunts, and finally, their peculiar Aunt Sylvie. As the two girls grow up, they find themselves following different paths. Lucille tries desperately to be accepted within the constructs of their small community, while Ruth finds that the Fingerbone cannot contain her wandering spirit or wounded heart.

This was my first novel by Marianne Robinson, and I found myself savoring it. This is not a book that can be read quickly. The writing is very perceptive, but in a lovely, quiet way. Robinson begins by examining family. Ruth and Lucille are constantly abandoned by the very people who should stay in their lives – their mother, their grandparents, and their great aunts. The only one who will remain is their aunt, whose unusual habits and personality could threaten to tear apart the little family they have left.

“And I was left alone, in the gentle afternoon, indifferent to my clothes and comfortable in my skin, unimproved and without the prospect of improvement. It seemed to me then that Lucille would busy herself forever, nudging, pushing, coaxing, as if she could supply the will I lacked, to pull myself into some seemly shape and slip across the wide frontiers into that other world, where it seemed to me then I could never wish to go. For it seemed to me that nothing I had lost, or might lose, could be found there, or, to put it another way, it seemed that something I had lost might be found in Sylvie’s house.”

This novel reaches down into the depths of grief and examines the way that it stays alive for years after loss. The sadness these characters feel is constantly reflected in their surroundings, particularly in the lake where Ruth’s grandfather died in a train crash and her mother drove off of the bridge. The family cannot escape their ghosts, since a reminder is always in view. Robinson does a beautiful job of really creating this atmosphere – the water’s potential to heal and destroy, the claustrophobia of a small town, and the way memory can be more powerful than the present.

Housekeeping is a gorgeous novel; it’s small and quiet and will sit in your soul for a long time after you read it. It’s a perfect choice to read on that rainy day when you are feeling a bit melancholy and need an author who truly understands how that feels and what that means. I have a feeling that I will frequently return to the writing of Marilynne Robinson and hope that this book and her others will find a home on my bookshelf.


  1. What a great description of the book! It's raining here today and I can picture sitting and reading with the rain pattering outside. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. I'm glad it sounds like something you would enjoy. It's such an atmospheric read!