Friday, July 14, 2006

Housekeeping (by Marilynne Robinson)

I think I liked this book better in aggregate than I did while I was reading it. In other words, I loved its overall theme and meaning more than I did some of its sentences. This response surprises me, since it's surely a poetic book and I am in theory a poetic-type person. And yet for all its lyricism and truthiness and precision of language, there were many instances in the book where I felt the descriptions were not precise enough, and it was somewhat frustrating.

One example I fixed in my mind (so that I could tell you about it) was when the narrator says that she and her sister are sitting "across from each other" (sure, okay) and "also from Sylvie" (their aunt). I spent like five minutes trying to visualize how they could be sitting across from each other and also across from their aunt. Once I had some kind of picture in my mind, I went on to read that Sylvie had a picture window opposite her, and they were all three staring out of it. Maybe the author's intended seating arrangement is perfectly clear to you, but it confused me for a while. This happened to me a number of times throughout the book, making things seem not quite real to me, since I couldn't visualize them. I also didn't get a quite clear enough picture of the main characters; for me they weren't described enough, or well enough, or something.

I assume that there's something wrong with me, by the way, rather than the book, since it's so well respected by people I respect. Which is not to say I didn't like it or don't feel like re-reading it; I did, and I do. It's got amazing insight into human nature and a lovely story and I certainly recommend it. I just don't think it's as well crafted as it could be. Sorry, Housekeeping fans. Maybe my standards as a poetic-type person are too high.

"That most moments were substantially the same did not detract at all from the possibility that the next moment might be utterly different. And so the ordinary demanded unblinking attention. Any tedious hour might be the last of its kind." (Page 166)


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