Saturday, 6 December 2008


Young sisters, Ruth and Lucille , are left on their grandmother's porch by their mother who then drives her car into a lake. This may or may not be suicide. After their grandmother's death, the girls are briefly cared for by two elderly spinsters until their mother's younger sister, Sylvie, inherits the house. Thirty-five year old Sylvie has been a transient or drifter and finds it hard to settle to domesticity although she is very fond of her nieces. Sylvie has the deeply entrenched habits of a drifter, she sleeps fully dressed with her shoes under the pillow, she pins a twenty-dollar bill to the inside of her coat and she is prone to wandering in the dark, 'borrowing' boats and rowing across the lake, laying on park benches and hitching rides on freight trains. Desperate to conform, Lucille eventually goes to live with her school-teacher so that she can be like other girls. Ruth, however, has the nature of a transient and she wants to stay with Sylvie.
Housekeeping is beautifully written with an absorbing story. For some reason the character of Sylvie reminded me of certain characters in Anne Tyler novels. Particularly Muriel the dog trainer in The Accidental Tourist. Sylvie teaches Ruth and Lucille what it is to be an individual. Here's an extract. Lucille and Ruth are looking up the word pinking-shears in an old dictionary and find it full of pressed flowers:

I opened to P. At that place there were five dried pansies - one yellow, one blue-black, one mahogany, one violet, one parchment. They were flat and still and dry - as rigid as butterfly wings, but much more fragile. At Q I found a sprig of Queen Anne's lace, which was smashed flat and looked very like dill. At R I found a variety of roses, red roses, which had warped the page on each side a little to their shape, and pink wild roses.


kristina said...

This has been on my to-read list for so many years. It sounds absolutely wonderful and is now moving to the top! Thank you so much for the recommendation. K x

Jenny said...

I loved this book (like her others.) It was strange and yet familiar, somehow. Thanks for the lovely review.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

Your blog is like a list of books I have read and loved, or books I want to read. But I had such trouble with Housekeeping. Despite its brevity it was so hard for me to get through it. It was like pulling teeth.