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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.


Marilynne Robinson (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Other Thoughts

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.

17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.


    March 11, 2015
  2. Robert, did you read her novel Gilead? I had trouble getting throught it. Great writing but I too found it to be dull.


    March 11, 2015
    • Really? I haven’t read it but thought it would be better. Maybe not.


      March 12, 2015
      • I believe it is better. But I found it hard to stick with her. It’s almost like you have to commit to reading the book like you are with this list. If you have another book that you really want to read, you will most definitely put down Gilead and pick up the other book. I own Gilead and hope to finish it one day. If you ever read it, I’d love to read your thoughts. 😉


        March 12, 2015
  3. I hate to say it, but I felt the same way about Gilead.

    Liked by 1 person

    March 11, 2015
  4. Teresa #

    I read Housekeeping two times. The first time I loved it. The second time, like you, I found it dull. That didn’t stop me from reading Gilead. Just finished it – it rambled on and on about religion. I got through it fine- but once again it was a dull read for me. Will it stop me from reading Home or Lila? Not sure. Her writing is great. And I keep hoping for the thrill that I found in my first read of Housekeeping.


    March 11, 2015
  5. I read Housekeeping a while back, and all I remember is that it wasn’t memorable. But then I picked up Lila (from the Gilead series), and I loved it. I loved the story and I found the prose beyond beautiful. When you finish the books on your list, I’d give another one of Robinson’s a try.


    March 11, 2015
  6. And here I always thought that Portnoy’s Complaint was a comedy. -:)


    March 11, 2015
  7. Try If you could see me now by Cecelia Ahern 🙂


    March 11, 2015
  8. Reblogged this on mustapher01's Blog.


    March 15, 2015
  9. I found Gilead so dull that I forgot I had read it until a friend reminded me that I had.


    March 19, 2015
  10. Reblogged this on MiszPhanget.


    March 22, 2015
  11. I’m coming late to the party, but this is a really accurate portrayal of Robinson’s writing. I so badly wanted to like Gilead–I’d heard great things…how moving it was…but I’d find myself 10 pages in, and realize I’d taken nothing in. Like someone earlier said, I found a new book halfway through and promised myself I’d go back, but it’s

    Just found your blog and LOVE this concept! Can’t wait to follow more.


    April 24, 2015
  12. Hi! I just finished Housekeeping last night, so came to your blog to see your thoughts on the book. Mine were pretty much the same. I even favored the same quote you did. I had read Gilead first, which made me interested to read another Robinson book. If you’re interested in my thoughts on Gilead I included link to my blog. I didn’t find it as boring as a couple of your other responders did or as boring as Housekeeping, frankly. 🙂


    April 24, 2016

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