Book #78: Housekeeping
I want to say awesome things about Housekeeping.
I want to tell you how much I loved the novel, how much the characters moved me, and how engaged I was by Marilynne Robinson’s story.
But I can’t.
If I had to describe Housekeeping in one word, it’s this: Dull.
Sorry to those of you who love this novel, but I could simply never engage with this story. I’m not saying Housekeeping didn’t have its high points, many of which I’ve shared with you in other blog posts.
For example, I still love this passage.
“To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing — the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again.”
Marilynne Robinson has a gift with words. Some might consider her flowery and verbose, and I can see that at times, but her writing is poetic in a way that doesn’t bother me. She’s a brilliant writer.
But her story—at least the story in Housekeeping—moves along at the pace of a disemboweled sloth. Do sloths have bowels?
Housekeeping tells the story of Lucille and Ruthie, two girls who are left orphaned when their mother commits suicide by driving off a bridge. Eventually, the girls end up living with their Aunt Silvie—who is as equally troubled and strange as their deceased mother was.
As the girls grow older and begin to come of age, they begin to realize their aunt’s sad eccentricities. They deal with loneliness, shame, and—for one of them—the desire to break free of their broken family.
Honestly, it’s a sad story that leaves you feeling a little empty. But that’s okay. I’ve loved many a novel that is sad and depressing. Most of the novels on this list meet that criteria.
This passage gives a sense of the overarching “feeling” in this novel:
“There is so little to remember of anyone – an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.”
Ultimately, in my humble opinion, Housekeeping combines a sad, depressing story with a slow-moving plot and marginally interesting characters. Even Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful prose and religious imagery can’t save it.
I can see why many others are fans of this novel, but it’s simply not my cup of proverbial tea—get it, Housekeeping and all?
Anyway, I can appreciate Marilynne Robinson and her accomplishment as a writer, but I’ll pass on reading this one again.
Opening Line: “My name is Ruth.”
The Meaning: Inherited loneliness–I think that’s the predominant theme of Housekeeping. You see how it’s passed down from generation to generation, almost like it’s a heart condition–which, metaphorically, I guess it is.
Highlights: With Robinson, certain passages just jump out at you. Not literally, of course. But her writing as a way of making you stop and enjoy it, breathe it in a bit, smell the roses before you move on to the next paragraph.
Lowlights: The story was dull, and the characters were only slightly more interesting. Compare this novel to The Blind Assassin–both stories beginning with a premise of someone driving off a bridge. I just couldn’t keep an interest in Housekeeping.
Memorable Line: “Because, once alone, it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise. Loneliness is an absolute discovery.”
Final Thoughts: I enjoyed Robinson’s writing style enough to possibly explore Gilead in the future, her novel that won the Pulitzer. But I’ll pass on Housekeeping.