Bart's Reviews > Housekeeping

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
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's review
Jul 28, 07

Recommended for: Women who love descriptive writing
Read in July, 2007

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 nothing very far from normal: one is very concerned with appearances and the other is a free spirit.

If the genius of this character development is that two persons accomplish the blessedly mundane, that's fine; but it belongs on "Oprah" and not among the Western canon's greatest works.

Make no mistake, though: Robinson has true talent. She observes things and describes them in original and florid ways. Her writing is everything that our high school creative writing teachers told us writing should be.

But then, for some of us, spending 65 words on how a character eats a marshmallow, in a novel that hasn't even 70,000 total words, is decadent, if not absurd.

At some point I'll read Gilead; I try to read all the Pulitzer winners. But after Housekeeping, honestly, I'm in no hurry.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Kristin I agree wholeheartedly! Thank you!

message 2: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan Wagner Lloyd You should try reading Gilead. The main character captures your heart a lot more. The whole tone of the book is so different that it is almost hard to believe it is written by the same author. While I liked Housekeeping okay, Gilead is one of my top 10 favorite books.

Roseanne Check this out. # 15 of this course, might help explain how this book fits into American literature.

I completely disagree with your feeling that these characters are not worth writing about. Their decisions have to do with being part of society or out of the mainstream -- it's a far richer and deeper topic than you've given it credit for. The aunt is not merely eccentric. Her entire existence teeters in a way that is reminiscent of how many people live. And the sister who is lured to more traditional society has to give up everything she knew and what she has up until that moment, valued most (family identity, her relationship with the only living family members she really knows). I saw this book as presenting different modes of survival in the world. I read it many years ago, but it is one of the few books that has stayed with me in a visceral way.

message 4: by Leonie (new)

Leonie So what is a worthy subject to write a book about? The coming-of-age of two sisters and an eccentric aunt, the sisters gradually becoming different kinds of people, these kinds of people only being "blessedly mundane" apparently isn't worth words, literally. Virginia Woolf's quote about attitudes to art: "This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room" certainly applies to you. There's no need for you to like any particular book, obviously, but wow, the gendered way you frame your reasons for disliking this one with your references to "women who like description" and "prah's book club" set my teeth on edge.

scissorstoariadne As much as I'm having a hard time getting through it, it is not for those reasons. I totally agree with you Leonie!

Flan Don't worry about Gilhead, the thirty years Robinson has spent on Calvinist essays has removed any reference to eccentric or dreamy qualities that may have bored you in Housekeeping. That there are people not worth writing about is incomprehensible to me.

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