Review: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson


Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction

Rating: ⭑⭑⭑⭑⭒

Original Release: 1980

Length: 219 pages

Housekeeping is a book about Ruthie and her sister Lucille’s being cared for by their aunt Sylvie after the death of their mother, then their grandmother. It’s a very quiet story that’s mostly plotless and very character-driven. It is mostly about the family dynamics of Ruthie, Lucille, and Sylvie, but more than that it is about impermanence as Sylvie is a drifter prior to coming into the girls’ lives.

I said on Goodreads already that if I had rated this solely on the content of the book, it would have been 3.0 or maybe 3.5 stars. I read this on the recommendation of my mother who’s been telling me for years that I should read it and that it’s one of the best books she’s ever read, and reading this book while knowing how she grew up in comparison to how she raised us, I really felt like I came to understand her a little bit more in reading this, and I think it’s really special and important when a book is capable of doing that, so this gets an extra star from me for that.

There were places in the book where the prose truly was beautiful and it should have been, but because the prose was like that all throughout the book in a sort of aggressive and relentless way, it took away the magic from the scenes where it worked really well. I’m also generally not a huge fan of diction that abuses the thesaurus. I wouldn’t call Housekeeping‘s style a case of purple prose, but it’s definitely dangerously toeing the line.

In the last 50 or so pages of the book, the religious talk just started to make me feel like I was sitting in a pew in a church and my problem isn’t that it was there, but that it didn’t make sense for the character it was supposedly coming from. All the Genesis talk and preaching makes sense maybe for an academic, but definitely not from a drifter. My eyes started to glaze over and I ended up skimming a lot of these paragraphs because I just… it seemed very heavy-handed and misplaced.

I loved the relationship between the sisters, and Ruthie’s relationship with Sylvie. I think the dynamics were all very well done there and even though there wasn’t much “plot” I found myself constantly wanting to read more to find out more about the characters. There’s not much I can say about that without spoiling parts of the book, but for someone who loves books that really pay attention to dynamics between characters, that was really, truly the heart of this book and what made it so wonderful.

There is a lot of heavy themes of loneliness and transience. There is some romanticization of death, but as Ruthie’s mother died when she and Lucille were so young, to me that made sense.

I really enjoyed the process of reading Housekeeping but I also a little be relieved to be finished it.

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