Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

I have read Gilead and Home and loved them both, so when I saw this one I was keen to read it. I think this was her first novel published in 1980 (it won the PEN Award and was nominated for a Pultizer Prize).

Here is the blurb …

A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.” Ruth and Lucille’s struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.

It was a short easy to read novel that none the less had a lot to say. Lucille and Ruth’s mother takes them to her mother’s house and leaves them on the porch and drives off (eventually killing herself by driving into a lake). The grand mother takes over raising the girls – she had three girls of her own her all seemed to have vanished. One is a missionary somewhere, the girls’ mother is dead and the youngest is transient. When the grand mother dies two great aunts  (sisters of their grand father) move in to take over, but it is not something they want to do they want to return to their old life and so they set about finding Sylvie (the transient). They advertise in the papers and eventually Sylvie responds and returns home to raise the girls. At first all goes well, but Sylvie hears the siren call of the road and struggles with all of the duties involved in raising children and keeping a house – she likes to eat in the dark, sleep with her shoes and coat on, never wash dishes, cook or clean. The girls stop going to school for a while and no one seems too bothered. Lucille knows something is not right and tries to better herself – returning to school, making her own clothes, finding friends and eventually leaving Ruth and Sylvie and moving in with one of her teachers. Ruth, however, seems lost and possibly what made Sylvie transient is also part of Ruth’s make up. They take to the road and to be fair both seem happy with this choice.

This novel is beautifully written. There is a feeling of light and water – water invades this story in many ways; the train wreck into the lake, the girls’ mother into the lake, the water level rising and flooding the lower levels of the lake. It is about what is normal acceptable behaviour – is it OK for Sylvie to sleep on the park bench (in full sight of the local community)?, do we all need to have a home?, does a home need to be maintained in a particular way? But the best part is the writing – it is poetic, evocative and simple – showing that good writing doesn’t have to be pretentious or difficult to read.

Another review …

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction, Recommended

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *