If you’re a fan of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead, you won’t be disappointed by her first novel Housekeeping. Although the style and subject matter differ, Robinson’s rich prose makes most authors’ stock sentences fade into oblivion.
Her lyrical sentences are never unnecessary. In fact, they will have you grasping at each word, never wanting the sentences to end. She weaves a tale that is unexpectedly interesting with a last line so haunting that it will resonate in your thoughts long after you’ve moved on to lesser novels.
Housekeeping is set against the desolate landscape of the American West in a town called Fingerbone. A placed described as “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather.” Looking back, Ruth narrates the story of how she and her sister Lucille grew up, going through one caretaker after another when their mother abandons them.
First their able grandmother raises them, followed by two great-aunts and finally their mother’s eccentric sister Sylvie. Ruth, Lucille, and Sylvie live in the old family homestead. Much like the mother they hardly remember, Sylvie is a transient being. The girls follow her around, afraid she will go on one of her excursions and never return.
She is not a woman eager to put down roots, in fact, it is impossible to imagine that she has any concept of permanence.
Sylvie’s keeps house by stacking tin cans after she has peeled off the label and allowing heaps of newspapers to fill the corners of the house.As the novel progresses Ruth grows to appreciate Sylvie and her view of life, adopting the transient attitude of her mother and aunt.
As Sylvie and Ruth alienate themselves from society and its norms, Lucille becomes increasingly dissatisfied with their life, veering sharply in the other direction.
The novel is not simply the tale of three women, but a tale of loneliness and isolation that questions what it means to exist, whether loneliness is a symptom or a catalyst.
Becket Royce reads this unabridged version of the novel. Her reading does not do justice to Robinson’s lavish prose. She reads it with a bland matter of fact tone, speeding through the rich sentences.Audible