I read Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping for class the other day. It was good, but not fabulous. I appreciated some of her ideas and some of her language, but it never moved me the way I think it was meant to. I don't think this is through any fault of Robinson's though - objectively I can see that it's well written. I just don't think think that her style of writing resonates with me particularly. It's not that it doesn't resonate with me either. It just didn't fully, if that makes any sense.
The book is very internally focused, which I kind of liked, but again, I never felt as much for the characters as I would have liked, and I'm not sure why. I almost did, but there was a certain amount of detachment. Nonetheless, the book did give me some ideas for my own novel, in the relationship between the sisters and in the general sense of detachment from the protagonist.
The book is quiet and moves slowly, but it's full of heavy and interesting ideas. Definitely a book you want to absorb slowly.
The end becomes much more philisophical in some ways, and interested me greatly. Possibly because my own novel examines memory and belonging, and this book dealt heavily with both. The idea is interesting to me, that memory is made sharper by loss, that in losing something, something becomes fuller.
The book is so full of loss and longing and waiting and disconnection. It really is a beautiful book, and yet perhaps the reason I never felt as emotionally involved as I'd like to have is because it's such a detached book. Detached the way the protag is detached. Who knows.
A few passages I did like, mostly towards the end of the book:
For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our sense know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing - the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
-- [Housekeeping, pg. 153]
I was angry that she had left me for so long, and that she did not ask pardon or explain, and that by abandoning me she had assumed the power to bestow such a richness of grace. For in fact I wore her coat like beatitude, and her arms around me were as heartening as mercy, and I would say nothing that might make her loosen her grasp or take one step away.
--[Housekeeping, pg. 161]
Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it.
--[Housekeeping, pg. 194]
But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.
--[Housekeeping, pg. 195]
But if she lost me, I would become extraordinary by vanishing.
--[Housekeeping, pg. 195]
When did I become so unlike other people? Either it was when I followed Sylvie across the bridge, and the lake claimed us, or it was when my mother left me waiting for her, and established in me the habit of waiting and expectation which makes any present moment most significant for what it does not contain.
--[Housekeeping, pg. 214]
Of my conception I know only what you know of yours. It occured in darkness and I was unconsenting. I (and that slenderest word is too gross for the rare thing I was then) walked forever through reachless oblivion, in the mood of one smelling night-blooming flowers, and suddenly - My ravishers left their traces in me, male and female, and over the months I rounded, grew heavy, until the scandal could no longer be concealed and oblivion expelled me. But this I have in common with all my kind. By some bleak alchemy what had been mere unbeing becomes death when life is mingled with it. So they seal the door against our returning.
--[Housekeeping, pgs. 214-215]
Then there is the matter of my mother's abandonment of me. Again, this is the common experience. They walk ahead of us, and walk too fast, and forget us, they are so lost in thoughts of their own, and soon or late they disappear. The only mystery is that we expect it to be otherwise.
--[Housekeeping, pg. 215]
In any case, it's worth reading, thought I wouldn't rave rave rave about it. But it is slow and beautiful, and if you're in the mood for something introspective and quiet, this is a book to read.