Literary Fiction

Dutch House – Ann Patchett

on
July 19, 2019
The Dutch House Book Cover The Dutch House
Ann Patchett
Fiction
Harper
September 24, 2019
Kindle
352

Ann Patchett, the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, returns with her most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. "'Do you think it's possible to ever see the past as it actually was?' I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer." At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves. The story is told by Cyril's son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures. Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they're together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they've lost with humor and rage. But when at last they're forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are. Filled with suspense, you may read it quickly to find out what happens, but what happens to Danny and Maeve will stay with you for a very long time.

Attached

The Dutch House is a story of siblings, Danny and Maeve Conroy, their obsessive connection with the iconic family house, they lived in as young children, and how their lives unfolded over five decades. The story is narrated by Danny over multiple non-linear time periods. The various time jumps and reflections back to events of impact or importance felt like a jigsaw puzzle being built, where there is the uncertainty of the next piece but once it is placed, the complete picture becomes clearer and clearer. This is a wonderful skill Ann Patchett possesses and you never feel lost or confused with the time jumps, as she manages the transitions so deftly. 

The other major hallmark of Ann Patchett is her development of amazing characters and relationships. Maeve is Danny’s older sister of 7 years, she is very intelligent, a diabetic, caring to the extreme for her brother, and a character that captivates you. Danny is much more emotionally reserved and his development into adulthood is enthralling to watch. While he takes advantage of top-class education in medicine he can’t shake his love for his father’s business in real estate. Their mother is a memory, having left them when they were young and the story starts with the father bringing Andrea home to visit. Andrea eventually becomes the wife, the new mother and the force that shapes future relationships and living conditions.

“Mothers were the measure of safety, which meant that I was safer than Maeve. After our mother left, Maeve took up the job on my behalf but no one did the same for her.”

It’s not too long before Andrea’s own two daughters become her sole focus and ambition, and the existing family and staff are unwelcome reminders of a past she wasn’t part of. Andrea is an intriguing character, dispassionate, harsh, and greedy, and heir to the Dutch House mansion. Even within the first few years of marriage “It also seemed pretty clear he had married the wrong woman. If we all kept to our own corners it was easier for everyone.”

After only a few years of marriage, their father dies and leaves the house and business to Andrea who repays his memory by putting both Maeve and Danny out, to never set foot in their home again. This starts an obsessive periodic pilgrimage for Danny and Maeve where they return to the street to sit in a car parked across from the Dutch House and gaze at it recalling memories and wondering how life would have panned out – if only. The emotional baggage they carry drives them forward but also restricts their successes and paths taken. The psychological burden of seeking happiness and fulfilment, while tied to past commitments and motivations is cleverly layered throughout the story.

I didn’t feel any great pace in the novel and at times wished it would move along in a more compelling rate. The house, while a connecting point, didn’t really have any character and increasingly the story is told away from it. It may be suggested that the house is the central aspect of the story but I would disagree feeling it more appropriate to consider the deep, caring, loving and supportive relationship between a brother and sister growing up with only each other to depend on.

I would recommend this book and I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an early ARC copy in return for an honest review.

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Peter Donnelly
Ireland

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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