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3.80  ·  Rating details ·  48,959 ratings  ·  6,012 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
Kindle Edition, 349 pages
Published May 25th 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (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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 ·  48,959 ratings  ·  6,012 reviews

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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.

Paul Bryant
Mar 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Elyse  Walters
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Speed Dating with a Book, Kindle 2021 edition – my most successful encounter so far, there was love, if not at first sight, maybe after 50 pages or so.

It’s been too long since I finished the novel to be able to write a proper review. Also, no time. I will only try to make sense in a few words of my reasons for loving this book. It was totally unexpected as the synopsis did not attract me at all. I bought it in 2016, probably because of a deal and it was on my TBR due to its listing in a Yale li
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  ·  review of another edition

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  ·  review of another edition
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
Ahmad Sharabiani
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
“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
Oct 05, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 31, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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,
Violet wells
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
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Julie G (time traveling for a week)
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
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  ·  review of another edition
"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
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
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 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
A realist spin on all those romanticised stories in which orphans are looked after by a string of fascinatingly eccentric relatives - or on the town of Lakeside in Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Published in 1980, this must have been written at the tail-end of the 1970s. It appears to be set in the 50s: despite its efforts at timelessness, with hardly any references to technology or world events, occasional mentions of fashion and the 1954 bestselling novel Not As a Stranger give clues. But you can
Feb 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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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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