Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: Housekeeping

After enjoying Marilynne Robinson's book, Gilead, so much last year, I decided to pick up her other novel, Housekeeping, to take along to CBLI. Sadly, CBLI wasn't a very conducive opportunity for reading. The only moments I snatched were just prior to bed and a few here and there while the boys were swimming at the pool.

Although I don't believe this book was quite as good as Gilead, the writing was again quite remarkable. Of course the endorsements were full of such praises. Walker Percy says it is "a story told in a language as sharp and clear as light and air and water." On the back cover, Doris Lessing adds, "I found myself reading slowly, then more slowly - this is not a novel to be hurried through, for every sentence is a delight."

Here is an example of her beautiful prose:

"It meant that on an evening so calm, so iridescently blue, so full of the chink and chafe of insects and fat old dogs dragging their chains and belling in the neighbors' dooryards - in such a boundless and luminous evening, we would feel our proximity with our finer senses. As, for example, one of two, lying still in a dark room, knows when the other is awake."

I found her words delicious. The story was interesting, although long at getting to the point. It is a tragic tale of two sisters who have been raised by their mother, then their grandmother, then their great aunts and, finally, by their eccentric aunt. It touches on the great toll of personal loss and the bonds of family.

Here is another finely worded passage, so evocative:

"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. Or it was at my conception.

Of my conception I know only what you know of yours. It occurred 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.

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."

It is a beautiful book, even if a bit sad and tragic. I am awaiting further novels by Marilynne Robinson. Although, perhaps I should nibble at her two non-fiction books, Mother Country and The Death of Adam, while I wait.

No comments: