Housekeeping is a haunting and evocative reflection on the beauty and the transience of life and love. The novel is an account of three generations of women whose lives are touched by loss and abandonment, and more particularly of Ruth and her struggle toward an inner stability despite the disruption and dissolution of her childhood. In focusing on women's experiences, desires, hopes and fears, Robinson creates an unusually female-centred novel in which men are merely peripheral figures. .
Housekeeping depicts Ruth's struggle toward selfhood from under the shadow of her mother's suicide. Acceptance of loss and change liberates Ruth from the need to 'keep house'. As she learns from her aunt Sylvie to embrace the transience of life, she no longer requires the illusion of permanence which housekeeping provides, and chooses instead a life of vagrancy. .
Through Ruth and Sylvie, Housekeeping affirms the possibility of a female subjectivity separate from the conventional sphere of domesticity, and the repetitive, though reassuring, rite of housekeeping. Although Robinson pays homage to the sanctity of the house and the intricate beauty of the rituals of housekeeping, she also recognises their futility and their failure to provide women with self-fulfilment or security. .
Although Robinson's novel is filled with sadness, it is also punctuated by a subtle humour and by the hope of liberation from the bounds of convention and the possibility of freedom from the fear of change, dissolution and flux. Ruth and Sylvie tear down the boundaries between inner and outer space, allow both house and body to merge with the surrounding world and free themselves from the tethers of human need. Ruth and Sylvie, and indeed the novel, embrace life in all its uncertainty and transience. .
Housekeeping is a beautiful novel, not only because of the strength and compassion with which Robinson depicts her female characters, but also because of the enchanting beauty and ambience of her language which is rich in symbolism.