Summary and book reviews of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett X
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
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  • Published:
    Sep 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Book Summary

Ann Patchett, the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, returns with her most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go.

"'Do you think it's possible to ever see the past as it actually was?' I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer."

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril's son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they're together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they've lost with humor and rage. But when at last they're forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are. Filled with suspense, you may read it quickly to find out what happens, but what happens to Danny and Maeve will stay with you for a very long time.

Excerpt
The Dutch House

The first time Maeve and I ever parked on VanHoebeek Street (Van Who-bake, mispronounced as Van Ho-bik by everyone in Elkins Park) was the first time I'd come home from Choate for spring break. Spring was something of a misnomer that year since there was a foot of snow on the ground, an April Fool's Day joke to cap a bitter winter. True spring, I knew from my first half-semester at boarding school, was for the boys whose parents took them sailing in Bermuda.

"What are you doing?" I asked her when she stopped in front of the Buchsbaums' house, across the street from the Dutch House.

"I want to see something." Maeve leaned over and pushed in the cigarette lighter.

"Nothing to see here," I said to her. "Move along." I was in a crappy mood because of the weather and what I saw as the inequity between what I had and what I deserved, but still, I was glad to be back in Elkins Park, glad to be in my sister's car, the blue Oldsmobile wagon of our childhood that my ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What are the many and varied details of the Dutch House—rooms, stairways, architectural specifics, furniture, windows and doors, etc.? What mood or personality does each space or element possess? What is the complex, overall effect? What might Danny mean when he says, "the house was the story" or that it was "impossible"?
  2. What is the nature of the relationship between Maeve and Danny? What explains the longevity and power of their support and love for one another?
  3. What is Cyril Conroy like? How might specific behaviors, routines, and decisions of his have influenced Maeve and Danny? Why was he "always more comfortable with his tenants than he was the people in his office or...in his house"? What was it about buildings that he ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The varying descriptions of the house, inside and outside, before and after the siblings' exile, are atmospheric. It looms over everything that goes on, and it's easy to see why Danny and Maeve have remained so deeply affected by it. This is also the kind of novel you might put down many times after a certain line or two, thinking back to your own experiences and wondering how she could possibly know a piece of your life or your family so well...continued

Full Review Members Only (832 words).

(Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Media Reviews

New York Times
There are very few sharp edges in this novel beyond Andrea’s central villainy and I periodically found myself wishing for a narrative that was, if not searing, a little less smooth — though to be fair, the Conroys suffer grief and loss beyond the financial. That said, what I (occasionally) wished for isn’t what Patchett was trying to achieve. The heroes and heroines of fairy tales face mighty challenges but they almost always make it through in the end. In The Dutch House, all’s well that ends well — and that’s a pleasure.

NPR
Rare among Patchett's fiction, The Dutch House is written in the first person, from Danny's adult point of view. Because Danny is by design a clueless, tight-lipped character, it isn't clear that this was the right choice; an omniscient third person narration might have been a better way to get deeper inside him... The Dutch House goes unabashedly sentimental, but chances are, you won't want to put down this engrossing, warmhearted book even after you've read the last page.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[Patchett] again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades...Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Patchett's splendid novel is a thoughtful, compassionate exploration of obsession and forgiveness, what people acquire, keep, lose or give away, and what they leave behind.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Stories That Houses Can Hold

Exterior of Dyrham Park, the house used as a film location for Remains of the DayHaving moved 17 times in the wake of my late father being transferred at his job, I don't have a nostalgic connection to anywhere I've lived. The connection many people feel in their bones, heart and soul to a specific home is a mere curiosity to me—an interest in what people remember, how they seek to describe it. I live vicariously through those words, trying to imagine what it must feel like to have those emotionally immersive memories.

The Dutch House is not the first time I've sought this out in literature. The fictional landscape of language, in all its varied forms, offers up so many different houses and so many different lives lived in them, that it's fascinating to read about how some characters embrace where they have ...

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