Beautifully written -- lyrical, one might say -- with a story that unfolds as quietly and unexpectedly as a flower. It's suddenly there, and you know so much about the characters' lives without being aware of that unfolding. The reader has an exceptionally pleasant voice, and a style of delivery perfectly suited to the material. A great experience overall.
Enjoying one good listen after the next!
The prose in this book is like pure poetry. . . and I learned to love it after the first 10-15 minutes of listening. It was unexpected, but captivating. For me, the narration was superb, although others find fault. It is difficult to dissect this book, because it is a story of memories and relationships and human idiosyncrasy in the raw. Enjoyable and relatively short in duration.
We’re told late in this short novel that, “For Sylvie, the essence of housekeeping was accumulation.” And yet Sylvie, the often befuddled aunt who has returned to try to keep her sister’s children together, can never really accumulate anything. That’s true in the small ways that she would always prefer to hop a train and go somewhere new and surprising, leaving her old things and retrieving new. It’s also true in the larger ways that she loses just about everyone in her life: father, mother, sisters, husband and, potentially, nieces.
In contrast to an idea of housekeeping as accumulation, we have an idea of it as about order or “orderliness.” There are the other women in town – and the conventions of beauty and propriety that seduce the younger niece Lucille – who push against the haphazard and simple joys that Sylvie tries to share with Ruth. Sylvie gets looked at and talked about. If half her nature is to flee the demands of housekeeping altogether, and if so many insist that housekeeping is different from her understanding, it starts to feel like slow-burn heroism to keep the house and persist in caring for Ruth.
We get the novel through Ruth’s eyes, yet I think our “protagonist” is really an impulse that runs through the generations. This is three generations of women, all gently mad, who push to keep together a house that was a kind of wild dream in the first place, handmade as it was by the semi-mythical grandfather. Very little “happens” in the heart of the novel (though it’s framed by dramatic events at the start and the finish), and I think that’s part of its deeper point. The smallness of the novel (in length) is just one more subtle shading of what’s at stake. This house is a fragile, probably impossible dream, handed down from one woman to another. It never has the chance to accumulate much – and much of what’s in the novel comes to us as memory, as something lost and then retrieved.
I understand that many declare this a “modern classic,” and I certainly like and admire it. That said, it seems to me to fall short of the Gilead trilogy which explores similar themes of “Home” (the title of the middle novel) but then wraps them around an attempt at recovering the great Protestant theology that underlay so much of the settling of middle America. If this falls short to me, though, I can’t help wondering how much of that is due to my necessarily reading as a man. The effort, the impulse, and even the aesthetic that works here is quiet in what I think is a deeply feminine way. I offer that not as criticism of the novel, but of me. I get the impression this novel has a lot to teach me and, even as I enjoy it, I feel a kind of quiet appreciation for it as a result.
And then, of course, there is Robinson’s flat-out mastery of prose. There are probably a hundred sentences I might single out for praise, but one early one just grabbed me: “The wind that billowed the sheets announced to her the resurrection of the ordinary.” If I’d written that one sentence, I think I’d feel pretty good about myself. Imagine what it’s like to write a full novel. So what if this is only Robinson’s fourth best novel; it’s still an extraordinary work by the woman who is very likely the greatest American novelist at work today.
This is an audible production I will now READ in order to savor the words as they were meant to be experienced. The narrator reads too quickly and in an infuriating sort of sing-song, both of which rob this imaginative story of its lyricism and gravitas. I felt as though I were listening to an adolescent with no life experience read a story with which she really couldn't resonate. Very frustrating! I kept going only in deference to the writer. New narrator please.
I liked the writing style but was sorely disappointed by the very simple plot. I listened patiently to many descriptions and kept waiting for something to change. This was a strange book as its potential was not realized.
It is the first book I've read by this author but I will try one more.
The reader is flat, way too fast, chipper in a thoughtless way, the wrong approach all together. I made myself listen to half of it but then was so irritated by the reading that I had to give it up. It was terminally distracting.
The writing is wonderful, the story is melancholy but deep, the sister love and survivor sense is so touching. I will buy the book to read the rest of it and savor it myself.
100% spoiled it, in ways I say above. The reading felt disrespectful of the writing, and careless of the listener.
None. I don't imagine myself as editor, and don't need to edit Marilynne Robinson.
Who casts the readers for these wonderful books? Does someone direct the reader? Have they ever read the book they are putting into audio form? Has the reader ever read the book? Like really read it, contemplated it, before doing it on air? It just should have been a fine, sensitive reader who knows pacing and who has a feeling for the characters and the long, subtle-hued drama that this book portrays. So disappointing.
Someone with an older and more theatrical voice
I wish I had read this in print instead of listening to it. I had to remind myself to pay attention to the story since the narrator's voice was totally wrong for the content. Her intonations, her cheeriness and timing were all off for this story.