Housekeeping

By Marilynne Robinson,

Book cover of Housekeeping

Book description

Winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award

A modern classic, Marilynne Robinson's 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, the eccentric and remote sister of their…

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Why read it?

8 authors picked Housekeeping as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I read this book in graduate school at the University of Washington, where Robinson had also been a graduate student. What struck me so forcefully was how the father is killed off in a train wreck at the beginning of the novel to usher in the exploration of the female life of generations of women.

No work before made me see how a male character and tradition can marginalize female life. This novel encouraged me to focus on my mother and sisters in my own writing.

This story about a girl and her sister growing up under the care of different people, one after the other.

They face a series of abandonments. The matter of housekeeping, then, is not only about the house they live in, but about maintaining a sense of spirituality to keep one anchored despite so much loss. The voice of the narrator moved me immensely, as she grows up clouded in a certain innocence, not knowing who from this small group of people in her house and life will be the next to leave. 

From Farah's list on growing up in unusual ways.

The story of Ruth and her sister trying to find a mother figure after their mother takes her own life in rural Idaho might not sound like the realm of prophecy. But in the ways that Robinson's luminous sentences spill open by book's end into a recounting of everything from Noah and the flood to Cain and Abel, this is a book of what Ruth thinks of as "brilliant memory."

From Daniel's list on prophetic American stories.

For a couple of years, when I was a teenager, I stopped doing what was expected of me. I stopped trying to do well in school, I stopped trying to maintain my friendships, I stopped caring if people found me gross or annoying. It was an unsustainable experiment. But one of the things about neglecting one’s responsibilities and declining to follow social norms is that it can be fun and enlightening. You might start to find the world more beautiful than you did when you were being decent. This book is about that state, the state of voluntary disgrace.

From Benjamin's list on fiction about being disgraced.

Housekeeping is Marilynne Robinson’s first novel. The narrator, Ruth, looks back on the last days of her childhood in the family’s lakeside home. Following her mother’s suicide and her grandmother’s death, her vagabond Aunt Sylvie returns to take care of Ruth and her sister. Sylvie cannot bear the confinement of domestic life, and under her benign neglect the once cozy house reverts to the wild. The story is almost a fable of the conflict between yearning for security and yearning for escape. Families, as well as houses, can change and decay—and both kinds of ruins are haunting. This is one…

From Ellen's list on life in a haunted house.

Housekeeping is actually not my favorite Marilynne Robinson novel, but because most of her later work, including Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize and is my favorite, all take place in Iowa, where Robinson eventually settled down, I chose Housekeeping, because it takes place where she grew up, in Idaho, but also because I could actually choose any of her novels, which are all outstanding. Robinson has become one of the more distinguished writers in America, and she is a master of language and development of rich and complicated characters. Her books also have a delightful touch of…

From Russell's list on by women writers in the west.

The first time I read Housekeeping, as soon as I finished I went back to the beginning and read it again. I wanted to keep it by me; Robinson’s beautiful prose is captivating: fluent and lyrical, yet spare. A haunting story of two sisters and their strange upbringing in Fingerbone (the town and lake of Fingerbone are characters too), Housekeeping deals with what psychologists now call ‘generational trauma’. But it does more than that: it captures an elusive, layered, childhood experience of loneliness that amounts to something spiritual and transformative. Yes, it’s sad. But above all it’s beautiful; I…

Set on a fictionalized version of Lake Pend Oreille, in my current home state of Idaho, this is a poetic, beautiful story of two sisters, and Robinson’s writing is liquid and clear and rippled as the lake. The train that crosses the lake on a long track is a central part of the book, and the first time I saw the train bridge, after I moved to Idaho, I went running out toward the water yelling “there it is!! The train across Fingerbone!” I love when a book becomes a part of a place so powerfully that it seems as…

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