The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

October 22, 2019 at 3:58 pm (Book review, books)

  The Conroy family is every bit as unique as the house they grew up in. Well, perhaps not quite….

The Dutch House was the place where those people with the unpronounceable name lived. Seen from certain vantage points of distance, it appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on. The panes of glass that surrounded the glass from the doors were as big as storefront windows and held in place by wrought iron vines. The windows both took in the sun and reflected it back across the wide lawn. Maybe it was neoclassical, though with a simplicity in the lines that came closer to Mediterranean or French, and while it was not Dutch, the blue delft mantels in the drawing room, library, and master  bedroom were said to have been pried out of a castle in Utrecht and sold to the VanHoebeeks to pay a prince’s gambling debts.

This singular edifice, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, was completed in 1922. I must say that for the life of me, I could not summon up an image of it in my mind. I longed for a photo.

The family, on the other hand, was easy enough to conjure. Big sister Maeve, tall with a single thick braid trailing down her back, Cyril, the father, both loving and distracted, close and remote, a staff  consisting mainly of Jocelyn and Sandy, two warm and affectionate sisters, a mother who appears and disappears and seems finally gone for good, and Danny, Maeve’s younger sibling and the narrator of this story.

There are numerous reviews of The Dutch House available online; you don’t need any further specifics from me. I will say that I had some problems with the novel up until around  the half way point. There are several dramatic developments in the course of the narrative, completely unanticipated, by me at any rate..  (One of these, by the way, is given away prematurely in the jacket copy – beware.) Unfortunately, the narration of what happens in between these developments sometimes tested my patience. I was less than fascinated, for instance, by the minutiae of Danny’s college classes at Columbia, in New York City, where a good portion of the story takes place..

But once past a certain point, the narrative seemed to hurtle towards a conclusion that was at once highly anticipated and hard to predict. I do love it when that happens!

And, of course, this is Ann Patchett, supremely gifted writer and co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee.

Before I sign off, I wish to note that The Dutch House is currently Number Seven on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List. I choose to view this as a hopeful sign.

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.


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