Tuesday, October 26, 2010

housekeeping

Another rave from me here, I loved Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, and have to read the rest of her books now. Marilynne Robinson is best known (I think) as the author of Gilead, as well as Home (winner of the 2009 Orange Prize). From what I have gleaned, her major themes are religion and domesticity. While I have heard about Gilead quite a bit I have not been tempted to read it, and only came to read Housekeeping after reading a review that described it as good-but-not-as-good-as-Gilead (as well as an encounter with it in a bookshop in a moment of weakness). 

But I am so glad that I did, because this was such a gorgeous novel, beautifully written. It's a novel of liminality, with recurring imagery of water and light and the sense of memory and dream. All these things seem to infuse the writing style itself, as well as informing the plot, characters and settings. And what are they? Two sisters are left by their mother on their Grandmother's doorstep, and cared for by a succession of relatives, their Grandmother, two Great Aunts and finally their Aunt Sylvie. Sylvie has been living as a drifter, and she and the house are something of an uneasy fit. The liminal is here in the families status as outsiders, the idea of the drifter, and the adolescence of the two girls. The whole thing is related as a memory and reads like a dream, the parts dealing with the family history reminded me a little of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in the concern with telling family history and the almost unreal quality of them. I've included a picture of the cover (from Amazon, hence the 'click to look inside') because I think it is a pretty good representation of the book and its prose style.

I have to admit though, my enthusiasm cooled a little by the end. Whether it was a combination of boredom and a rainy afternoon I am not sure. It may be that the slow plot caused me to lose momentum, although it did start to pick up towards the end, it was in a somewhat disconcerting way. I don't think the pages of reference to Cain and Abel and Noah's ark around chapter 10 helped either. Biblical allusions are used throughout the book, but very lightly, and pages of discourse on God's character seemed slightly out of place and jarring. Plus the whole Noah/flood/water thing seemed a bit heavy-handed. But I don't know if this was merely because I had fallen out of a reading mood, maybe at other times I would have felt these passages were more resonant with the rest of the book. The main character, Ruth, narrates the book, and is somewhat distant from the story throughout, but becomes more involved near the end, and I found her a little difficult to relate to in parts.

Back to the positive side: I loved this book most of the way through, it almost made me cry so many times for reasons I could not pin down, it is beautiful and shifting and cries out for a reread. So notwithstanding my difficulties with it toward the end I have to say I loved it. So here's a snippet apropos of Teaser Tuesday (hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading):

"Downstairs the flood bumped and fumbled like a blind man in a strange house, but outside it hissed and trickled, like the pressure of water against your eardrums, and like the sounds you hear in the moment before you faint.
Sylvie lit a candle. "Let's play crazy eights."
pp65-66
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

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