On the simplest level, ‘The Dutch House‘ by Ann Patchett tells the story of a Gatsbyesque mansion and, across five decades, captures the indelible bond between brother and sister. In a rags-to-riches move into a glorious, neo-classical home, it should be the beginning of a comfortable, happy life for the Conroy family. However, the house harbours family tensions behind its luxurious façade. Danny and Maeve’s mother flees without warning when they’re both still young, leaving them with their cold, distant father. Enter evil stepmother, Andrea, and her precious daughters and the end of Danny and Maeve’s childhood follows suit.
‘The Dutch House’ is a slow burn, yet incredibly immersive. It begins with Danny’s memory of the first time he met his requisite wicked step-mother, Andrea. This almost has a fairytale quality in that it was the day where ‘everything’ seemed to change. Indeed, she separates the siblings from their father, their house, and everything they hold dear. Accordingly, we see how Danny and Maeve make a ritual of parking outside their former home. For decades, the grand old mansion acquires an emblematic role in their lives: it represents their childhoods, their father, his marriage. Yet, as Danny continues to recall the memories of his youth, he questions the very veracity of them:
“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.”
As he grows older, he reassesses certain moments and figures of his past, discovering hidden complexities in what had first appeared to be unremarkable occurrences. The glass-walled Dutch House may offer every passer-by a glimpse inside, but the truth it contains is obscured.
Family sagas never fail to captivate me, and from the first page to last, I’m invested in their characters. In ‘The Dutch House’ I resonated with Maeve in particular: flawed, funny, unapologetic. But all the characters who populate this book are memorable. The house itself even becomes a character in some ways. Patchett doesn’t waste words with architectural descriptions but brings specific features of the mansion to the forefront: Maeve’s window seat, the looming paintings hanging the walls, the grand staircase, she leaves the rest up to us.
Overall, Patchett spins a true family epic that digs realistically into false memories, what it’s like to look back on places and people as an adult; a meditation on growing up, forgiveness, and mistakes. A spellbinding book with subtle mystery that anyone who loves family sagas will enjoy.
Buy The Dutch House here!
Thank you Tandem Collective and Bloomsbury UK for my free copy in exchange for an honest review!
Have you read The Dutch House? What other family sagas have you enjoyed?