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Pickle Me This

December 13, 2014

If you need me… Marilynne Robinson Update 2

housekeepingI finished reading Housekeeping last night, past midnight even. And I’m left with more than a few impressions. The first a bit incidental, but we started reading The Children of Green Knowe last night, so it seems there is water water everywhere (in books, at least). And as I continued through Housekeeping, marvelling at the ghosts and spectres, I thought of Shirley Jackson more and more, and so I was so pleased to find this piece about the connections between Housekeeping and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, of which there are many. I appreciate too the discussion of Housekeeping and genre, fantasy in particular. It is such an oddly situated book in terms of genre, which was my trouble with the novel in my first reading of it—it wasn’t at all what I’d expected. Its situating of the domestic is particularly peculiar, and I love the image of Sylvie opening the windows because she believes in the virtues of fresh air, and forgetting to close them for no good reason except that she forgets. I’m struck by the strange notions of housekeeping as an occupation in both Housekeeping and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. And this too—I am always less interested in a book whose characters are disconnected from society. For example, By the Shores of Silver Lake is my least favourite Little House book, and when the Ingalls finally moved to town in time for The Long Winter, I was so relieved. So as Sylvie and Ruth spun farther and farther away from Fingerbone, I found the story less compelling. I remain so intrigued by the town, the curious descriptions of its inhabitants, who remain so unclear to me, probably because of how the descriptions were filtered through Ruth’s strange perspective. And her perspective was really so strange in a way that the reader doesn’t entirely realize, because Ruth herself rarely refers to herself singularly—she is always part of a “we” collection, which lends credence to her point of view. She is persuasive, explaining matters and circumstances in a way that seems logical, is always measured, until we examine her ideas properly and determine they don’t make so much sense at all. While remarkably different in nearly every respect, she reminded me a little bit of Nora Eldridge from Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs in this respect. The power of the first person narrator, our propensity to trust the voice speaking directly into one’s ear.

Anyway, Housekeeping truly is a masterpiece, a baffling, strange and beautiful one. So glad I read it again.

Next: moving onward to Gilead, which I’m nervous about. Not being altogether familiar with the Bible, beyond Sunday School lessons, I’ve always been inclined to think I’m not quite its ideal reader.

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