Review: ‘Housekeeping’


By Marilynn Robinson

  • Date finished: Jan. 23, 2015
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Year: 1980
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading Lists: Winter 2014-15, 65 Books You Need to Read in Your 20’s
  • Grade: A+
  • Thoughts upon finishing:

I have heard a lot of wonderful things about Housekeeping by Marilynn Robinson, most of them from book people (including the librarians at work, the librarian who checked this out to me, etc.). I’ve read Gilead, and I remember feeling so-so on it, so I wasn’t sure about Housekeeping, but I’m oh-so-glad I gave it the chance it deserves.

It’s hard to imagine that a book can be feel both beautifully quiet, and yet lush at the same time, but that’s how I felt reading Housekeeping. Marilynn Robinson tells a sorrowful tale of loss, death, and feeling out of place with the world, a  tale that’s both beautiful and yet unimaginably sad. It’s a story of growing up, and growing apart, and finding ways to come to terms with tragedy. It’s also a story about women and the relationships they have with each other: sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces. It’s also about the special sorrow that women tend to hold onto in life, and the beautiful breakdowns that can occur when those emotions are allowed to manifest themselves.

And that’s about the best I can do toward describing the “plot” of Housekeeping, because this is a book that has a plot, and yet is unmoored from that structure as well. I have a feeling this has a lot to do with gender and the various metaphors surrounding women and female sexuality: water, madness, etc. It brings to mind the wonderful experiences I’ve had reading Virginia Woolf, of whom I’m assuming was a major influence in the writing of Housekeeping (for example, suicide by drowning plays a major role). There’s also the loose, drifting nature of the writing, and how that reflects the state of mind of our protagonist – very much a rejection of the traditional, structured, “masculine” rules of thinking, living, and composing a novel.

But that’s all English major stuff. What really makes this book a wonderful reading experience is the sheer beauty of Robinson’s prose. I don’t remember Gilead being quite this beautiful, but this was astounding. I copied down three passages to share with you here, which I’ll do at a later time, but trust me when I say that reading this book was like slowly wading through an elegant, off-kilter, melodic, sometimes convoluted sea of prose. Reading was like being in a trance, and sometimes, I didn’t want to surface.

To conclude, if you’re a woman, read this book. If you’re a man, read this book. If you’ve ever wanted to understand sorrow, read this book.


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