Title/Author: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
In a nutshell (Publisher):
From the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, comes Ann Patchett’s 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. 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.
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.
Verdict: An immersive story of family, forgiveness and love. My first Patchett and won’t be my last!
Everyone who saw the Dutch House was in awe of it, as was Cyril Conroy who purchased it for his wife, Elna, as a surprise, only to be rejected. Elna hated the house and everything that came with it, and didn’t see herself living in it. At that point, she felt it best that she left, leaving Maeve (10) and Danny (3) behind. Andrea, the evil stepmom, who appeared almost as suddenly as Elna left, entered their lives with two daughters in tow. Maeve and Danny were left to fend for themselves.
The Dutch House, which Andrea called ‘a piece of art’, ‘appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on’, with ‘panes of glass that surrounded the glass front doors were as big as storefront windows and held in place by wrought-iron vines.’ The Dutch House was built and owned by the VanHoebeeks, a Dutch couple, in the 1920s in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The house was not named for its architectural design, but after its previous owners; the novel, named so not because of the house’s magnificence, but because of its prominence in the lives of those who lived in it. It held their past, and present, their stories and secrets. To the Conroy siblings, it held the beginning and the end, to Andrea and Cyril, it held prestige.
First things first, I didn’t feel for any of the characters, except Maeve. But what I found most captivating was their relation to one another and how they functioned as a unit.
It was their dynamics that made The Dutch House so interesting – the relationship and bond between Maeve and Danny, between them and their caretakers, and everyone involved their lives – watching it all unfold was absolutely popcorn-inducing! And there was just something about Patchett’s storytelling that kept me turning the pages.Tweet
What was central to me in the book was also the themes of past and present. Although the siblings had left The Dutch House for good, their thoughts and memories of that house never had; they were never able to let go of the past. They kept coming back to it; they’d parked right across from it regularly, while reminiscing and reliving their days in it.
“I see the past as it actually was,” Maeve said. She was looking at the trees.
“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.”
I love that quote, gave me food for thought.
This book was also about forgiveness. How much would one be able to forgive and forget? Would they ever be able to forgive their evil stepmom? Would the siblings be able to ever forgive their mother for leaving them? And the ending took me by surprise. That was a part of forgiveness and compassion I’d never thought possible, not in this real world, maybe only books and movies? Or maybe it’s just me being cynical. I won’t say what happened in case you’re planning on reading this.
This is dysfunctional family drama at best. Many tender moments between the siblings, their caretakers and stepsisters, but also infuriating moments with their stepmother, Andrea. She just made me want to throw things at her! Celeste was a close second. Elna surprised me most of all. And to be honest, I didn’t really like her either. At times, I also wondered what would have become of the siblings if not for their caretakers Sandy and her sister, Jocelyn, who were like their guardian angels, and treated them like family. And the ending was just the way I like it! Beautiful, just beautiful! And yes, I teared up a little…
This is a book to meant to be savored,and it makes a great autumnal read!
Have you read this? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? And what are your thoughts on the quote about the past? Does it resonate with you? Please share with me your thoughts!