Book Review: “The Dutch House” By Ann Patchett

the dutch house

Siblings Danny and Maeve live with their mother and father in The Dutch House, a jewel-box of a home situated in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

Danny and Maeve’s father, Cyril Conroy, buys the house as a surprise for his wife, Elna. But unfortunately, the surprise doesn’t quite go to plan.

Elna, whom Cyril well-meaningly “rescued” from a convent, is horrified by the house’s opulence. She is extremely uncomfortable within its walls — a feeling that’s only magnified when she discovers they now have “help”, in the form of sisters Sandy and Jocelyn.

Elna begins to disappear from the house for days at a time. Then one day she doesn’t return at all.

After an unfortunate kitchen incident, nanny Fluffy also departs, and it’s just Maeve and Danny, their father, Sandy and Jocelyn . . .

. . . until the fateful afternoon Cyril introduces them to a “friend” named Andrea.

Bitterness sets in

She will later become their stepmother, and — following the untimely death of Mr Conroy — she becomes their enemy, throwing them out of the house and effectively disinheriting them.

As time passes, Maeve and Danny take to going back to the house. They sit outside in the car, chatting, and smoking.

Looking in as their home and Andrea’s daughters, Norma and Bright, commandeer their lives.

Bitterness sets in.

The one chink of light in their father’s will allows for Danny’s further education. He attends boarding school and university, studying medicine at the most expensive institutions available.

It’s only when Maeve is seriously unwell that Elna reappears.

Danny and Maeve view their mother’s reappearance completely differently.

Maeve is overjoyed, and at peace. But Danny is quietly furious, full of resentment.

A really enjoyable read

Is it possible for them to move forward? Can one “get over” loss — of your home, of your mother, of all that was rightfully yours?

This is a really enjoyable read.

Narrated by an adult Danny, it takes place over five decades. Maeve and Danny are excellent characters, and so much about the book has a “real feel”.

I found Cyril’s lack of warmth and his refusal to acknowledge the mistake of his marriage infuriating. And I found Elna difficult to fathom — selfish, and manipulative.

And yet there’s a lot of gentle humour in the dialogue, and warmth in the relationships with peripheral characters such as Mr Otterson.

I’m not usually much of an online shopper. But in the interests of keeping bookshops going during lockdown, I bought my copy from Waterstones online, for £6.99 (includes free delivery if you spend over £20).

It has an additional section at the back about how the beautiful cover painting became part of the book, which was a treat.

Published by Bloomsbury, Ann Patchett’s “The Dutch House” was nominated for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction.

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Lucy Crichton

Better known as “Fiction Editor Lucy”, I am always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, I enjoy working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of “Friend” fiction!