Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Another stellar novel from this excellent author. This was in fact her first novel; it is only "another" to me as I'm coming to it after several others.                                  

Lucille and her sister Ruthie get dropped off at their grandmother's house, then watch as their mother drives away, never to be seen again. Five years later they are put into the care of two prim, elderly ladies, for whom the responsibility soon proves to be too much, leading to their mother's younger sister, Sylvie, coming to "keep house" for them. Sylvie, long a drifter, doesn't easily adapt to staying in one place or even living within walls or under a roof, choosing some nights to sleep in the car or outside in the grass. She feeds them, barely, but is careless about the house, leaving it to deteriorate around them. In time Lucille rejects this lifestyle, wanting normalcy and security, but Ruthie begins to understand Sylvie and her need to be untethered. When local authorities question whether Ruthie is being properly cared for, Sylvie makes an effort, cleaning up the house and answering all their questions, but it is of no use. They are coming to take Ruthie away...   

Robinson writes some of the most poetic prose I've ever read. She tells of life's hard things with words that infuse light and air into them, making them feel less tragic. I've never read any other author who can do this. The story itself is profoundly moving, but the stunning way she uses language to tell it makes it something more, something that soars above story-telling, yet also plunges you deep into the world she's creating. It's exhilarating, and comforting at the same time. Read it slowly, so you can take in every rich sentence. 

I will remember this book for its beautiful sadness, a sadness not disheartening but giving a kind of comfort and not without hope. This is my fourth of Marilynne Robinson's books, two of which, and now three, have made it to my all time favourites list. I can honestly say of these books: they make my life better.   

If you still aren't convinced, here are a few quotes to tempt you:

“She conceived of life as a road down which one traveled, an easy enough road through a broad country, and that one's destination was there from the very beginning, a measured distance away, standing in the ordinary light like some plain house where one went in and was greeted by respectable people and was shown to a room where everything one had ever lost or put aside was gathered together, waiting.”

“Every sorrow suggests a thousand songs, and every song recalls a thousand sorrows, and so they are infinite in number, and all the same.”

“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.”


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