The Dutch House

Ann Patchett

The Dutch House
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The Dutch House

Ann Patchett

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish folly in small-town Pennsylvania taken on by his property developer father. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her delicacy, her brilliance. Life is comfortable and coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house’s former owners in the frames of their oil paintings, or under the cover of the draperies around the window seat in Maeve’s room.

Then one day their father brings Andrea home: Andrea, small and neat, a dark hat no bigger than a saucer pinned over a twist of her fair hair. Though they cannot know it, Andrea’s advent to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve’s lives. Her arrival will exact a banishment: a banishment whose reverberations will echo for the rest of their lives.

For all that the world is open to him, for all that he can accumulate, for all that life is full, Danny and his sister 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 enforced exile is that of their mother’s self-imposed one: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.

Told with Ann Patchett’s inimitable blend of wit and heartbreak, The Dutch House is a story of family, betrayal, love, responsibility and sacrifice; of the powerful bonds of place and time that magnetize and repel us for our whole lives, and the lives of those who survive us.

Review

Ann Patchett is indisputably one of the greatest storytellers of our time and her eighth novel, The Dutch House, is an undeniable joy to read. I recommend settling into this novel. It starts slowly but before you realise it you will be caught up within the epic story which will keep you safely marooned for the entire reading. Be prepared for personal reflection as Patchett’s sense of humanity allows you to look further into your own history and observe your own follies.

The Dutch House is the life story of Danny Conroy, a frank and reliable narrator. It begins as his parents move to the impressive and ostentatious ‘Dutch House’ bought by his father, Cyril Conroy, who had created great wealth through a vast real estate empire. Although meant as a surprise for his wife, Elna, Cyril’s purchase of the house sets in motion the eventual downfall of his family. His wife leaves, a replacement is found and his children, Danny and his older sister Maeve, are thrown into the street. Set over generations, this story has all the elements of a cautionary fairytale like Hansel and Gretel. Danny’s voice is deliciously circumspect, allowing you to fully believe his truth; his close and reliant relationship with his sister, his disappointment with his mother and all of his cumulative sadness and anguish.

Patchett’s skill is the building of suspense through detailed moments of petty grievances while elaborating on the larger life misdemeanours. All of Danny’s account could have happened. Surely it is possible. Danny Conroy will be as real to you as Anna Karenina or Scout Finch. Their stories are universal. Readers of Anne Tyler or Annie Proulx will relish this novel that defines families by commitment and heartbreak. Again, Patchett has created the perfect read.


Chris Gordon is the programming and events manager for Readings.

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