Housekeeping, A Book Review

The Christmas season is all about bringing people together and spending time with loved ones, which makes Housekeeping by American author Marilynne Robinson a perfect must-read modern classic for the season. 

Written in beautiful poetic-prose, Robinson’s novel takes place in the small, isolated town of Fingerbone where two young orphans, Ruth and Lucille, live with their strange, oddball Aunt Sylvie. Even the home they move into—an awkward and slowly decaying structure built by the girls’ deceased grandfather—is just as strange. While homes are meant to keep the outside world out, animals and weather always seem to find its way inside the home, including a flood which rots away at the furniture and books within.  

Ruth and Lucille attempt to find a semblance of normality with Sylvie, but her eccentric ways of living disrupt their ordinary routine. Lucille grows to resent Sylvie for her lack of housekeeping skills and inability to act as a responsible guardian while Ruth becomes obsessed with digging deeper into the family’s tragic past and her mother’s violent passing. Meanwhile, residents of Fingerbone begin to see the negative impact Sylvie has on the two girls and believe she is not fit to be a guardian, and they threaten to take the children from her. With Lucille and Ruth growing apart, their stance on their life with Sylvie impacts their desire to remain with the only person to claim them or be sent to someone else who knows what it takes to be a housekeeper. 

“[Sylvie] 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.”

Robinson’s writing is beautiful and immensely powerful in her deliverance of three very different characters grappling with similar problems in different ways. It leads to a very witty and humorous story about how these three women interact and move around in the new space they inhabit. While Housekeeping (Picador Press) is a sorrowful and heartbreaking novel, it is importantly and foremost about the power of family bonds and how they never entirely sever, even in death. Family, and the lack of, is very important to these characters, who try to understand their tragic history of loss while forming new bonds and trying to find a place they can call home. 

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About the Reviewer: Kaitlyn Sutey lives in Bracebridge, Ontario. She completed a double major in English Literature and Creative Writing in May 2019 from Dalhousie University. Back at home, she spends most of her time reading and writing novels. Kaitlyn aspires to edit manuscripts for a publishing company, and to one day release a novel of her own. See Kaitlyn here .

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