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3.80  ·  Rating details ·  45,564 ratings  ·  5,446 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
Paperback, 219 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by Picador USA (first published March 1st 1980)
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John Grabowski > I loved it for the beauty of its prose

I love beautiful prose, but I feel so much today, particularly with "literary fic" readers, "beautiful prose" …more
> I loved it for the beauty of its prose

I love beautiful prose, but I feel so much today, particularly with "literary fic" readers, "beautiful prose" comes to mean lots of tortured metaphors, endless adjectives and adverbs describing mundane things with superlatives, and excessive attention to everything being "beautiful." I found most of the prose in this book unnatural and crafted to draw attention to itself rather than arising intrinsically from the thing being described. Sort of the literary equivalent of Oscar bait, in other words.(less)

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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  45,564 ratings  ·  5,446 reviews

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Apr 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.

Elyse  Walters
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was craving a book like this...had wanted to read it forever.
I can't express how much I appreciate this book. The story itself had me in the palm of my hands. The writing was so rich and breathtaking- I felt like I was being taken out to an expensive fine-dining experience-- savoring every bite.

No POV alternating chapters - not a long-winded 500 page novel. This powerful novel with many themes: family, loss, death, abandonment, unconventional lifestyles, small towns, with memorable character
Paul Bryant
Mar 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels

This is Literature with a capital L in the form of a Doric column so high you’ll get a crick in your neck trying to see to the top of it. You really do feel like you are becoming a better person as you read this novel, even as you fight the drowsiness which is baked into each and every sinuous delectable palpable sensuous lapidary paragraph. Huh? What? What was that??

The story, such as it is, and it really isn't, is that two little sisters are orphaned and then looked after by their grandmamma w
Michael Finocchiaro
Marilynne Robinson's first novel Housekeeping were it a piece of music, would ressemble Sibelius' Violin Sonata in D Minor - slow and foreboding, full of winter's solitude and loneliness. The setting, Fingerbone (most likely in Idaho) is quite reminiscent of Finland actually. There is the small town surrounded by snow-covered mountains with a huge lake not far from which live Ruthie, the narrator and her sister Lucille. They have been surrounded by death and loss: their grandfather died during a ...more
Angela M
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing

I found it difficult to read, but yet I didn’t want it to end . Difficult because it was somber and dark and slow moving and sad. Yet, this quiet story with such beautiful prose kept me wanting more. Wanting to know what would be the fate of two young girls who never knew their father, lose their mother to suicide and are left in the hands of a series of relatives over the years living in the same house built by their grandfather. The writing is so clear that you can feel the cold and dampness i
Oct 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2009
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
Oct 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
“Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world’s true workings. The nerves and the brain are tricked, and one is left with dreams that these specters loose their hands from ours and walk away, the curve of the back and the swing of the coat so familiar as to imply that they should be permanent fixtures of the world, when in fact nothing is more perishable.”

I read this novel in black and white. Perhaps I should say in black and white and shades of gray. Like an
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, recs
Full of loneliness but laced with quiet wit, Housekeeping meditates on the ways grief, sorrow, and depression are transmitted across generations. Set in a decrepit town near a glacial lake in the Far West, the coming-of-age novel follows preteen sisters Ruth and Lucille as they’re raised by their aunt Sylvie, a former vagrant who compulsively hoards, in the wake of the suicide of their mother Helen, whose own father met an untimely end decades earlier in a train accident. The story’s told from t ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
‭Housekeeping ,c1980, Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping is a novel by Marilynne Robinson, published in 1980. Ruthie narrates the story of how she and her younger sister Lucille are raised by a succession of relatives in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho.

Eventually their aunt Sylvie (who has been living as a transient) comes to take care of them. At first the three are a close knit group, but as Lucille grows up she comes to dislike their eccentric lifestyle and moves out. When Ruthie's well-
May 31, 2008 rated it it was ok
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,
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Patient readers
Recommended to Dolors by: A friend with boundless grace
Shelves: dost, read-in-2017
“Housekeeping” is an introspective, almost ethereal coming of age story that navigates the hazy division between presence and absence, loss and survival, radiance and darkness.

Lucille and Ruthie have been left to the care of their elderly grandmother in Fingerbone, their mother’s natal village in Idaho. When the old woman passes away, their eccentric aunt Sylvie returns to Fingerbone with her unorthodox personality and her particular way of understanding life that will open a chasm between the
Violet wells
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm getting better at abandoning books which don't give me much back. I bought this by mistake. I meant to buy Home, part of the Gilead trilogy. This is her first novel and for me has all the shortcomings of a first novel. It read like a short story fattened up with minutiae. There's little narrative drive; it has no muscle in its thighs. It floats gently along like some gossamer thing caught on the wind. It isn't bad but I found nothing compelling or distinctive about it. Having said that, some ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sister-act
If Gilead is a story about redemption by water, then Housekeeping is its earlier counterpart, a contrasting story of death by drowning.

Housekeeping was Marilynne Robinson's debut novel, published in 1980, and, either Ms. Robinson was in a darker place as she wrote it, or her inquisitive mind felt the need to process death.

Death is everywhere here. So is water. Dark water, flooding the locals of the small, sparsely populated town of Fingerbone (presumably somewhere in Washington state, here in th
Dave Schaafsma
"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."

Wow. I knew of this book in 1980 when it came out, and in that year I must have picked it up in Shuler's Bookstore In Grand
Aug 23, 2008 rated it did not like it
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.
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Oct 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book last week and have been traveling through its landscape ever since, much like Sylvie rode her railcars from town to town. Marilynne Robinson creates characters that beg you to live with them, to dig deep and touch their souls. They are unlike any people you have ever known, and yet they are every person you have ever met. They struggle with how to connect to one another and how to suffer the loneliness of the connections they cannot make. The worlds that are most real are th ...more
Aug 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Perhaps all unsheltered people are angry in their hearts, and would like to break the roof, spine, and ribs, and smash the windows and flood the floor and spindle the curtains and bloat the couch." (237)

Floods. Moments of homecoming. Departures. Then Boredom. Languid Days. School Days. Insufferable cold. & stasis.

Like some passably modern take on "Little Women", it's filled to the brim with detailed reminiscences, though set in Washington State. Like a Jane Champion film; like some beloved 90s
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
I picked up Housekeeping initially at an airport bookstore, but couldn't bring myself to pay the more than full price they were asking. It took me months to remember to order it, which I regret on several levels. Dark, oddly twisted, Robinson managed to suck me into this strange world. Housekeeping is a book that manages to haunt me still every time I see it on my shelf or think of it. ...more
Dec 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.

A summary of Marilynne Robinson's aesthetic in The Paris Review emphasises the ability of an artist to make us view the quotidian with a sense of wonder. It's what she does, it's what her characters experience, it imbues them and us with a sense of the numinous in everyday life.
One evening one summer she went out to the garden. The earth in the rows was light and soft as cinders, pale clay yellow, a
Nov 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is probably one of the best examples I have come across in recent years on how to tell a tragic story without a single drop of melodrama. It should actually be taken as an example by all those authors out there trying (too hard) to make their readers feel like they just peeled and chopped a bunch of onions.

Housekeeping is a totally realistic story but because the writing takes it to a new level of brilliance I felt like it was all happening in a slightly different and much better worl
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
Feb 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, audiobook
This book's biggest strength is its sense of place. Robinson develops settings so well—all the way from state down to city, home, and the internal monologue of our narrator, Ruth. It's a very atmospheric novel that swept me away. However, I found the story to be a bit lacking. The novel ponders themes of isolation, home life, transience and familial relationships, but doesn't necessarily deliver a strong verdict on any of these things. That's ok; I don't expect to be hit over the head with what ...more
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Marilynne Robinson shrugged and thought "Maybe I'll write a book" and then just did it, in longhand, and then she showed it to her friends who lost their minds, and one of them was an author whose agent pounced on it and she got a call, like, "This is brilliant, get ready to be famous," and she was like "Oh, okay."
The deep woods are as dark and stiff and as full of their own odors as the parlor of an old house. We would walk among those great legs, hearing the enthralled and incessant murmuring
Every episode represented a world of longing, so utterly beautifull. Longing to be like the others (Lucille), longing to being loved (Ruthie) and longing to a world of transcience and dwelling (Sylvie). On some places the longings meet each other while sometimes they collide. But the result is a magnificent novel about major feelings in one's life, all told in this slow, 'perceptive', strong language. ...more
Raul Bimenyimana
Nov 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: women-writers
This book is narrated by Ruth and begins with a short family history, of her eccentric maternal grandfather whose tragic death completely marks the family, and her grandmother who in her own way tries to live with the sorrow and raise her children, and of the three sisters among them, Helen, Ruth's mother. After another tragedy, Ruth and her sister Lucille are raised by their grandmother, growing up semi-isolated from the rest of the small town of Fingerbone and drawn always to the town's lake t ...more
When she remembered that we were there and that we were children she sometimes tried to make her stories useful.
This is a highly regarded and much accredited piece, judging by the lists and the prizes and the place among the few females on many a personal favorite and/or grudgingly obliged pedestal. This is also a target of the Emperor's Clothing logos, judging from the MFA appraisals and sentence length critiques and the usual waving about a book like a dog worrying at tissue and string. I'
Lyrical. Beautiful. Haunting.

There were so many scenes in this book that reminded me a little of my own childhood or that made me wish I could have experienced them back then, but then there was a sadness to it that never ended.

Still, how neat to take a boat and spend the night in the woods and hop a train to get home. Of course, the boat was stolen. Or the ice skating: I have never read anything so beautiful as the way Marilynne Robinson described it. And then how their mother had sung "What'l
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Marilynne Summers Robinson (born November 26, 1943) is an American novelist and essayist. Across her writing career, Robinson has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, National Humanities Medal in 2012, and the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. In 2016, Robinson was named in Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people.[2] Robinson be ...more

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