Marilynne Robinson
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3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  18,090 ratings  ·  2,492 reviews
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 gr...more
Mass Market Paperback
Published by Bantam Books (first published 1980)
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written in exquisite detail, as everyone has noted, but a lot of the rest of what's been written in the more recent reviews i find sort of troubling and, frankly, misleading. recommended for 'women who like descriptive writing'? gross. this novel was given to me by a dude, and further recommended by a (male) writer i know-- a guy who counts earnest hemingway among his favorite writers-- as one of the best novels of the 20th century. this is not, as has been implied, some kind of lady-book.

Two things you should know about my thoughts on Housekeeping:

1) I think Housekeeping is a great book.
2) Finishing Housekeeping gave me a palpable sense of relief.

Housekeeping is darker and more intense than the author’s better-known Gilead . The former is also a tougher read; even the most careful reader would, I imagine, find herself returning to some passages a few times in an attempt to follow the beautiful but difficult language. So while I don’t regret reading a tough and rewarding n...more
I might as well cut to the chase here: this book was a pretty significant and unexpected disappointment for me. Housekeeping falls into one of my favorite literary sub-genres: mostly plotless, character-driven novels (e.g. To the Lighthouse, In Search of Lost Time). I'd seen the Pen/Faulkner Award, the "best of" status among recent American books voted on by “writers, critics, editors and other literary sages” (, and the high ratings from friends with imp...more
I'm going to throw the gauntlet down and say that I thought this book was terribly overrated considering how many of my friends--whose taste I've come to respect--recommended it to me. All the critics from 1980 seemed amazed that this was a debut. Seemed like a first novel to me.

The thing that people praise most about the book was the beauty of her language. I'll admit that there were some wonderful passages, and some great imagery, but there was just as much "writerly" prose, overwritten prose,...more
About a girl who really hates to talk and never talks but the author can't stop babbling. She just goes on and on and on and on and on.

The ending really sucks, just like the middle and the beginning.
Another reviewer labeled this book as good for "Women who love descriptive writing." Well. I loved this book, so either I'm due for an identity crisis or someone here is a little misguided about writing and gender. Or both.

Either way, I can't say enough about this luminous, challenging and sobering book.

Robinson starts her novel with a cross-generational tale of loss. The narrator, Ruthie, recounts the story of the death of her grandfather, who went down with a train that sailed off of the brid...more
Until recently, I thought I would like to one day live in a hotel. Not a cheap, seedy places with the lingering smell of stale cigarette smoke where people go to have affairs, or not one of those ultra sleek and modern trendy boutique hotels, where they sell “sensual massage kits” with the minibar items, but one of those classically glamorous places, with a piano bar, that one’s grandparents would stay in, like the Waldorf Astoria or the Carlyle in New York. (Also, the fact that I’ve never found...more
I have been thinking about this book since I finished reading it and still am unsure what to say. I believe it has some of the finest prose I've read....causing me frequently to stop, go back, read again once, twice, or more, before I continued with the story. There are parts that are woefully sad, in fact the story is one of total sadness and trying to eke out a life through the melancholy. But these women somehow seem to transcend (or outrun?) the melancholy in their own way. Grandmother by be...more
Housekeeping has a distancing voice--brittle, isolationist and isolating--and the book is steeped in both death and its premonition, life seen as an unforgiving and unforgiveable thing tolerable only in ritualization or complete letting go.

Somehow, though, it remains also one of most humane and often even humorous books I know, still gentle in its ironies, humane and sympathetic in its treatment of the women and girls who make up the whole of the book, all of them suicides or suicides waiting to...more
Marilynne Robinson won great praise a couple years ago for "Gilead," and much was made of the fact that it had been 23 years since she had written her first novel, "Housekeeping." While this was an evocative tale about a family in an isolated rural area and the writing was often poetic, I found it a struggle to get through. Heavy on atmospherics and light on plot, it was the kind of book where I often found myself nodding off on mid-page. Not my cup of tea.
Feb 09, 2013 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sleep is best when you're really tired
Recommended to Mariel by: You don't just sleep. You die
Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them. You simply say, "Here are the perimeters of our attention. If you prowl around under the windows till the crickets go silent, we will pull the shades. If you wish us to suffer your envious curiosity, you must permit us not to notice it." Anyone with one solid human bond is that smug, and it is the smugness as much as the comfort and safety that lonely peop
Perhaps in future generations when the American-MFA style of programme fiction writing comes to a grinding and welcomed halt, and as critics look back upon this period of American literature and wonder from when did it all begin, they might pluck from the threads of the post-war era. Although MFA programmes have been a long part of the establishment, it's only relatively recently - say in the last few decades - where the popularly and uptake of such programs have turned it into an almost blister...more
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 15, 2014 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Time's 100 Best English Novels from 1923 to 2005
Different from most of the books that I've read recently. Why? This novel is narrated using present tense thus while reading, it feels like you are witnessing the events as they unfold before your very eyes. It intrigued me so I checked the Wiki entry for this book and the style is called transparent eyeball pioneered by Ralph Waldo Emerson who was one of the major influences of Marilynne Robinson (born 1943). Transparent eyeball is like communing with nature and it is not just about looking at...more
Marilynne Robinson actually strikes me as more of a northern European writer than a North American one. Her sentences have this steely, clear eyed quality to them that is reminiscent of writers like Tomas Transtromer, Par Lagerkvist, even W.G. Sebald at times (though unlike Sebald, the history which shades and haunts Housekeeping is that of a deeply private set of tragedies, not a continent-wide catastrophe). Literary comparisons aside, she brilliantly balances the luminous mysteriousness of the...more
This is not a one read book, even as I read passages over and over to myself I knew there was still lots I‘d missed. In “Housekeeping” parents disappear into death and into their own walled silence and kids are left to fend for themselves; it happens generationally. There’s a river that perpetually swallows folks and a train running through this isolated town that helps them escape as well as swallows them. Loneliness and extreme individuality, alternately, open up wells of enriching thought or...more
With a title like “Housekeeping” and a story billed to be about the generations of women who raised two orphaned girls, the assumption would be that the story would focus on the “keeping” of the house, and that the “house” would thereby be kept in good order.

Well, it begins that way. And, what housekeeping is to one person may be something entirely different to another, which leads me to what I think this book was really about.

Our bodies house our souls. The story is a metaphor. The manmade, f...more
Aidan Watson-Morris
like walking in circles through a dense fog. not unlike my first time round with twin peaks--gripping story, rill pretty, endearingly dated elements, but what keeps you there is the atmosphere: mesmerizing. (just checked wikipedia, apparently it was adapted to the screen, but--bleh.) more deserving of the pulitzer than gilead, which i also dug. some reviews complained of its slow moving plot but it wasn't that so much as the narrative was blanketed by an absolute, impenetrable mist. didn't dig t...more
Jody Rambo
just reread. extraordinary. never have i felt i had entered a narrator's subconscious so fully. loss. abandonment. transience. lake fingerbone is an elemental world i think of when i wish to escape, vanish, become cultureless.
Sep 01, 2007 Katherine rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Really, this is a rare book that "made my life better". I think Marilynne Robinson is amazing because she has written two novels in the past twenty years (that have been published) and both have been amazing. This is story of 2 girls who struggle to live with various members of their family after their depressed mother leaves them.

It's hard to put into words the depth of emotion that comes out of Robinson's beautiful prose, and to fully comprehend everything that is going on in the story. What...more
There's a certain style of writing that emerged in the 1980s and is particularly prevalent in MFA programs. I didn't know where it came from. It focuses on precise language and mood, has a strong American cultural feel, ignores plot, and has an overpowering sense of sadness. A close friend suggested I read Housekeeping. Bingo. I feel like I've found the motherlode of this style.

I'm neither American enough nor sad enough for this kind of fiction, plus I tend to need a plot to enjoy a narrative. W...more
Jul 28, 2007 Bart rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Women who love descriptive writing
Investor Warren Buffett has said, "That which is not worth doing is not worth doing well."

So then, are those characters which are not worth writing about worth writing about brilliantly?

That was the question this book left me asking. Essentially, this book can be reduced to the coming-of-age of two sisters and an eccentric aunt. The author deserves little credit for character development because her two main characters, to whom she subjects an odd and tragic childhood, eventually arrive at nothi...more
For a story of two orphaned sisters raised to young adulthood by a mix of fickle female relatives in the town called Fingerbone, Robinson’s Housekeeping is what you might expect—ethereal, melancholy, and unrelenting—even still, it will shake you to the core. It is a great talent of Robinson’s that she can nearly sum up the entire novel in just the first three sentences of the book and still leave you a ravenous reader until long after you’ve set it down for the last time.
My name is Ruth. I grew...more
I had no idea what was being withheld from me by not reading Marilynne Robinson - this is a lovely, haunting, water-and-earth-filled book. Robinson's prose is lucid and at the same time as distracted and lilting and absorbed as her characters are. I will go on to read Gilead, but I think that it simply can't be this perfect. And since "Housekeeping" is set in the Idaho/Washington backwaters, I am more easily able to believe the gloom and sense of weird weightlessness this story conveys.

2.5 stars
What a command of words, such pictures the author painted with them in this sad story of loss and grief.
However I thought that, for me anyway, the words got in the way of the story. I was so focused on the heavy description at times re-reading some passages to get a clearer understanding that the story didn't have the impact that it might have had if the prose had been less complex.
The action in this character driven story, told by a quiet narrator, Ruthie, is minimal and meanders at t...more
A lake with a tragic past, a melancholy existence of a family a tragic story on loss, identity, sisterhood, growth and realisation.
Narrated though a younger sister of two sisters she is more placid more isolated and marvels and looks at the natural world around her and her aunt who comes to look after her she marvels at her resemblance of her long lost mother. She tries to deal with the facts of her families fate and her being left behind by woman, mothers and grandmothers, and embraces this new...more
I have 25 pages left of this book, and so I will refrain from granting stars for now. But I felt the need to stop and take a breath before I stay up too late tonight to finish it. This is perhaps the most acute and beautiful portrait of life's fragility and sometimes cruel, sometimes indifferent contingencies that I have ever read. Being with Ruthie, the narrator, for too long makes me begin to feel as if my confidence that everything and everyone I love dearly will still be there in the morning...more
Marilynne Robinson is the author of Gilead, which is a very popular book among readers this season, and just to be that much different (I know... I'm such a stand-out), I read her previous novel, which came as highly recommended.

I can see why book lovers like her. She vividly details each scene. Suddenly, a page is full of the texture of the bedspread and the lighting in the room and the placement of the shoes on a certain side of the bed. But said with such description that you imagine it perfe...more
Housekeeping is not a book for everyone. If the term "writer's writer" turns you off, it might not be for you. And Marilynne Robinson is certainly that. A less fastidious reader than I could probably finish this in an afternoon but that would be a mistake. There's little plot to speak of, aside from a depiction of the ebb and flow of a life. There's a flood, an ice storm, some trains, families that splinter and realign, children that grow older by increments and bounds, all in a setting that's m...more
I read this after reading Gilead, just to see what Robinson had written twenty or so years before. I wasn't particularly wowed by this as a whole, but it had its moments. I recall the story being downright bizarre at times.

Robinson does have a strong gift for addressing matters of the heart, as in this bit I really liked:

"There is so little to remember of anyone---an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the hea...more
I've just reread this book for the first time since I was in high school. The paperback cover and yellowed pages feel inadequate to present the bright, luminous prose contained within. Though, in a way, it's fitting. This is a book about ephemeral beauty, time, loss. It's also a book about humanity and the things that estrange and connect us.

Sadly, the film version of Housekeeping, which I watched and memorized before ever even touching the book, still haunts my reading experience. The discrepan...more
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Her 1980 novel, Housekeeping, won a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first novel and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Her second novel, Gilead, was acclaimed by critics and received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the 2005 Ambassador Book Award.

Her third novel, Home, was published in 2008 and was nominated f...more
More about Marilynne Robinson...
Gilead Home When I Was a Child I Read Books The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self

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“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.” 165 likes
“Because, once alone, it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise. Loneliness is an absolute discovery.” 118 likes
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