Saturday, September 03, 2005

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

I have what can only be described as an expanding love in my heart for this novel. I really liked it the first time I read it, then I read it again last summer to use in a graduate workshop last fall, then I read it again this summer to use in my undergrad women in literature course, and it is so rich with imagery and language (not to mention a decent plot and really likeable--no, loveable-- characters) that I feel like I could read it every six months and love it even more each time for a different reason. I used to think the opening was slow but now I relish the measured pace, the dark imagery, and the insane quantity of information that Ruth, the first person narrator could never know. It used to drive my mother crazy that I would reread certain books over and over, (I knew they would be good, which you can't know about something you haven't read!) but in retrospect that practice may have been good training for me as a reader. I learned to pick up on small details in second (third, tenth, whatever) readings, and that way learned how those small details can be key to understanding subtext and tone. Not that Harriet the Spy had an enormous amount of subtext, but certainly annual summer readings of Lord of the Rings showed me something new each time.

My point is that when reading as a writer, rereading can be especially useful because only when you know the end can you see all the work the writer was laying down to get you to that end. Being an obsessive reader of certain authors may not be such a bad idea either.

I will add though that reading Housekeeping briefly paralyzed my writing because it seems unapproachably good and if the world has Marilynne Robinson writing novels (albeit only one every ten years) maybe it doesn't need me writing novels, but after awhile I got over that. Besides I like having something to shoot for--a reason to keep practicing in the hope of writing a book that good. But then I also recommend having a not-so-great novel around too so that you can say, at least I can do better than that. (it probably says something sad about me that I'm not kidding).

1 comment:

The Angler said...

Quite by chance, I started rereading Gilead yesterday. I just picked it up and started somewhere about a third of the way in. I'm aware of Housekeeping but haven't looked at it yet.

Gilead is one of the books that has become part of me. I cannot imagine a time in my life from now on when I will not be reading some part of Gilead over again for the umpteenth time.

Just saying why Gilead is such a powerful book for me isn't enough. If I ever express why Gilead is an important book, it will be some fictional statement--if not a novel, then a short story. Gilead inspires me to write, goads me to rush to my computer and write something, to at least attempt to say something as true as Robinson did.