THE DUTCH HOUSE by Ann Patchett

From the Jacket

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.

My Thoughts

Ann Patchett’s latest novel THE DUTCH HOUSE has received an enormous amount of praise since its release last fall, having been nominated for a Pulitzer and finding a place on the Women’s Prize longlist. Despite owning several of her novels, THE DUTCH HOUSE was my first experience with Patchett, and I was completely charmed by her writing!

“Every hour was made up of a series of chances, and choosing to walk down one street instead of another had the potential to change everything: whom you met, what you saw or were spared from seeing.”

THE DUTCH HOUSE feels like a 21st century fairy tale, with so many similarities to traditional stories like Cinderella and A Little Princess. In simple terms, siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy grow up in a beautiful mansion, but lose everything when their father dies and their “evil stepmother” kicks them out of their childhood home and their inheritance. Of course it’s tragic, but it still has that charming fairy tale feel, crafted by Patchett’s gorgeously opulent writing.

Our main characters Danny and Maeve share such an incredible sibling bond. Their intense brother-sister relationship propels the story, and I really grew to care and root for them! There is also a little bit of a “found family” theme, which is SO heartwarming and wholesome. After their father’s death, Danny and Maeve find family in their housekeeper, cook, and nanny, and Danny seeks out a father figure in his chemistry professor. Further, there is a lengthy conversation concerning motherhood, as the siblings’ mother phases in and out of their lives throughout the novel. THE DUTCH HOUSE is certainly a family-centered novel, and Patchett finds miraculous ways to tug at her reader’s heartstrings.

“Men leave their children all the time and the world celebrates them for it. The Buddha left and Odysseus left and no one gave a shit about their sons. They set out on their noble journeys to do whatever the hell they wanted to do and thousands of years later we’re still singing about it.”

You know I LOVE family sagas and books that follow multiple characters over a period of time, so THE DUTCH HOUSE was like candy to me! The real cherry on top, and another of my favorite things in fiction, is the way Patchett writes about the Dutch House itself. There is a tremendous sense of place present in her writing, so much so that the house itself feels like its own character. Many of the novel’s events stem from the Dutch House, with the home and the characters having equal influence over one another. Nothing would have happened without Cyril purchasing the house in the first place, and Danny and Maeve return to the house again and again.

It’s hard to put into words just how much I loved this book. I became wholly absorbed in this story, completely under the spell of Patchett’s beautiful writing. When a novel makes me feel so intensely toward a fictional house and a set of characters… that’s the sign of a good book!

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