The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Publication Info: Published Sept 24, 2019 by Harper. Hardback edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: Two siblings, Maeve and Danny live with their father in a monstrosity of a house in a town outside of Philadelphia. The time is shortly after the end of the Second World War. Their mother disappeared when Danny was a toddler. Maeve remembers her, but Danny doesn’t.

Their father, Cyril Conroy, is a lost soul. He takes care of his children’s physical needs via his household help, the cook and housekeeper. While they are both kind and attentive, it is no substitute for a parent. Maeve grows up too quickly, taking on the parenting role for her younger brother.

Into this house of gaudily expressed wealth and brooding portraits of past owners, walks a woman who is what Cyril’s wife wasn’t— appreciative of him and his albatross of a house. Over time she worms her way into their lives as his new wife, dragging her two daughters with her. Cyril’s son and daughter are slowly pushed out of the house until suddenly, the door is slammed against them after their father’s unexpected demise.

Adrift, they cling to each other in ways that are necessary for their survival, as they are now nearly penniless. As they struggle to overcome their drastic change of circumstances, they learn lessons about what it means to love and forgive.

Comments: The Dutch House is engrossing and accessible Literary Fiction. The writing seems effortless — and yet I know it had to be anything but — and draws the reader in as thoroughly as a nail-biting thriller.

As I read this book, something kept feeling familiar. I initially put it down to my childhood tours and fantasies of the mansions in Newport, RI. It wasn’t until I started writing this review that I realized what made this book seem so personal. My own mother was raised in much the same way as the children in this book. While their house was on a much smaller scale and lacked the gaudy touches, she was raised by a housekeeper while her parents were busy being self-indulgent. Her older sister provided some of the love she craved. My mother’s childhood scarred her for the rest of her life, ultimately damaging her relationship with me.

So, while The Dutch House may be a work of fiction, it is not fantasy by any means. It is an intimate portrait of a dysfunctional family — that was to me — all too real.

Highly recommended for readers of Literary Fiction, Family Sagas/Stories, Best Sellers and General Fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS.

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