Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House…

About the Book:

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish mansion. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her wit, her brilliance. Life is coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house’s former owners in the frames of their oil paintings.

Then one day their father brings Andrea home. Though they cannot know it, her arrival to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve’s lives. The siblings are drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own exile is that of their mother’s: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.

Told with Ann Patchett’s inimitable blend of humour, rage and heartbreak, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale and story of a paradise lost; of the powerful bonds of place and time that magnetize and repel us for our whole lives.

My Thoughts:

‘There is no story of the prodigal mother. The rich man didn’t call for a banquet to celebrate the return of his erstwhile wife. The sons, having stuck it out for all those years at home, did not hang garlands on the doorways, kill the sheep, bring forth the wine. When she left them she killed them all, each in his own way, and now, decades later, they didn’t want her back. They hurried down the road to lock the gate, the father and his sons together, the wind whipping at their coats. A friend had tipped them off. They knew she was coming and the gate must be locked.’

This novel is divine. You know how you can sometimes stumble across a novel and it seems as though it has been written to perfectly match your tastes and moods; a six out of five star read. That is what this one is for me. Perfection.

‘But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.’

The narrative is character driven, and while there is a plot, it is not something that I could easily sum up if asked what this novel is about. Instead, my answer would be that it is about a brother, a sister, and a lost house and it is utterly fantastic and you should read it. As soon as possible. However, you probably want a little bit more than that. Nevertheless, can I just point out, it is Ann Patchett, and for me, that alone speaks volumes. She writes so well. What she does with words is remarkable and that is why there are so many quotes in this review. Her own words should tell you all you need to know about this novel.

‘The idiocy of what we took and what we left cannot be overstated. We packed up clothes and shoes I would outgrow in six months, and left behind the blanket at the foot of my bed my mother had pieced together out of her dresses. We took the books from my desk and left the pressed-glass butter dish in the kitchen that was, as far as we knew, the only thing that had made its way from that apartment in Brooklyn with our mother. I didn’t pick up a single thing of my father’s, though later I could think of a hundred things I wished I had: the watch that he always wore had been in the envelope with his wallet and ring. It had been in my hands the whole way home from the hospital and I had given it to Andrea.’

Danny narrates the Dutch House in a hindsight fashion, walking us through his life from infancy to the present day when he is a man in his forties. Yet, this is not just Danny’s story, and such is the skill of Ann Patchett that she is able to convey just as much about Maeve, Danny’s older sister, as she is about Danny himself via his gaze. I really liked both of these siblings, as well as their relationship, and over the course of the novel, I became so invested in their combined fate. What happens to them after their father dies is very shabby, and I have to say, I never accepted or forgave Andrea’s treatment of them. When Maeve and the family solicitor came up with their ultimate plan for revenge, I really got a lot of enjoyment out of it. That Danny went along with it was such a testimony to his love for Maeve. It is a certain type of person who can put his or her own dreams and ambitions aside to fulfil another’s destiny.

‘There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you’d been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you’re suspended, knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.’

No commentary on this novel would be complete without touching on the topic of their mother, whose absence was a looming presence throughout, a thorn that could not be dislodged. When she reappears, decades after leaving, Maeve and Danny have very different reactions. I was able to fully appreciate each one’s view, but I was firmly in Danny’s court on the issue. I could not forgive her and her reasons for having left in the first place just gave me further reason to not forgive her. I know what it is like to be living a life removed from what you thought you would be, but when you have children, you press on. You live it anyway, and then you go and do what you want after. The disappearing mother is a bit of trigger for me. Maybe that is part of why I loved this novel so much; I could relate to it so well.

‘Making a mistake is not giving the floorboards enough time to settle before you seal them. Abandoning your children to go help the poor of India means you’re a narcissist who wants the adoration of strangers.’

Although, I will say, being in a position where your husband just buys a mansion, still filled with the previous occupants’ belongings, even down to the clothes and kitchen utensils, and then presents it to you as a fait accompli; well, that is something else. There is a lot within this novel about the loss of agency over one’s own life. Their father took away their mother’s agency, and he repeated that with Maeve, who in turn took away Danny’s. An interesting cycle that Patchett played out with precision. I love this quote from Maeve:

‘God’s truth,’ Maeve said. ‘Our father was a man who had never met his own wife.’

So I loved this novel. And obviously, I recommend The Dutch House whole-heartedly. It is one of the rare few that I may read again.


Thanks is extended to Bloomsbury Australia for providing me with a copy of The Dutch House for review.

About the Author:

Ann Patchett is the author of six novels and three books of non-fiction. She has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction three times; with The Magician’s Assistant in 1998, winning the prize with Bel Canto in 2002, and was most recently shortlisted with State of Wonder in 2012. She is also the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She is the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Karl, and their dog Sparky.

The Dutch House
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Released 24th September 2019

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

  1. Beautiful review, Theresa! Perfectly said. I love everything Ann Patchett has written and this novel was no exception – it was extraordinary. It held me in a spell until I’d finished it – I genuinely couldn’t put it down. Which for a character driven novel is a real feat, I think! There’s a couple of points I’d really love to chat about but they’re spoilery, so I’ll just leave it at sharing your enthusiasm and admiration! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Dear Santa – I would like these 5 books - For Book Lovers and Random People

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