Dutch House – Ann Patchett
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.