Publication Date: 24th September 2019
I had somewhat ashamedly only read one of Ann Patchett’s books prior to getting my hands on The Dutch House, and that was Commonwealth, a sprawling family epic that I really enjoyed. I have heard nothing but good things about her though and after reading The Dutch House I have realised I really do need to work my way through her back catalogue.
In this book we have another family saga spanning 5 decades. The tale of siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy, and their formative years living in The Dutch House, so named and well known in the area because a very prominent and wealthy dutch family once lived there. The house is purchased by Danny and Maeve’s father as a present for their mother. It is a gesture to show how successful he has become in his construction and property rental business.
However, from the off their mother is uncomfortable with this show of wealth, having come from a modest background, and never feels quite at home in this huge glass fronted house. When she ultimately decides to leave when Danny is quite small, the children are left with their father and a couple of house staff. That is until their father meets and marries Angela, a younger woman who has an interest in the Dutch House bordering on an obsession.
Maeve does not bond well with Angela and although Danny tries his best to, he never really feels that she wants them around. When their father passes away suddenly, the unthinkable happens and they are left with a woman who cares so much about The Dutch House and very little for them.
When they are ousted from the house with no claim over their fathers estate, the siblings have to deal with not belonging anywhere. They lost their mother, they have had to deal with their fathers death and then they are plunged into financial and emotional instability as they have to watch Angela and her two daughters living in their childhood home. And watch they do, literally, as over the years they regularly drive to The Dutch House and park a little way down the street, watching and talking for hours.
The story covers many many years and examines the impact of the loss of The Dutch House on the two very close siblings. The house itself becomes a character in some ways. There is always this sense of regret and injustice hovering over Danny and Maeve and their adult lives are shaped by what happened in their childhood. Maeve appears to be the most affected in my opinion, she seems to be the one most unwilling to let go, the one most likely to ruminate over events and feelings and the iniquitous nature of their childhood.
What Patchett does brilliantly in my opinion is write these sprawling family saga’s that draw you right in. They span decades but you still feel invested in the character’s lives, more so than if it was a snapshot in time. The timeline in this book is not linear. We jump all over the place back and forth between times when Danny is unmarried, then to when he has his children then back to his childhood at the Dutch House. I didn’t mind this but there were times where it took me a minute or two to settle into the new narrative.
That Ann Patchett chose to write from the perspective of a male protagonist was very interesting and also very authentic. I also breathed a sigh of relief that it was Danny’s story and not Maeve. I have an aversion to teenage girl narratives (more on that another time!) so if I am to read a book told from a child/teen perspective, as some of this book is, then I much prefer it to be male.
I’ve been thinking hard about how to word this without it coming across as derogatory because it isn’t AT ALL! But when I was part way through this book I messaged my good Bookish friend Clare over at Years Of Reading Selfishly and said something along the lines of ‘The Dutch House is fabulous! Nothing much happens’……now I know that could be taken as a negative but what I meant was there isn’t some big complicated plot, it’s not a thriller, there aren’t many twists and turns, it’s just life! But it’s throughly compelling life and even though plot wise there were no great surprises I felt fully invested in the characters and their relationships.
If you are a fan of family saga’s you absolutely need to get your hands on a copy as soon as you can. I’ve a feeling you won’t be disappointed.
Me? I’m off to find more Ann Patchett books.
Thank you so much to the publisher for my review copy.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx