The Dutch house : a novel

by Ann Patchett

Hardcover, 2019

Status

Available

Publication

New York, NY : HarperCollins Publishers, [2019]

Description

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 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 unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Danny and Maeve have been raised in the “Dutch House,” a massive estate purchased by their father early in his marriage. Their mother, who hated the house and everything it stood for, abandoned the family when Danny was still very young. Their father remarried the materialistic and social-climbing Andrea, who made their lives a living hell.

When Danny is in his teens and Maeve in her twenties, their father dies suddenly and Andrea makes it clear they are no longer welcome in the Dutch House. The loss of both parents and their childhood home sends the pair into a long-term tailspin. On the surface, they grow into educated and responsible adults. But whenever they are together, Danny and Maeve visit the Dutch House, watching from a discreet location and ruminating over what they’ve lost and what might have been. In the years to follow their inability to let go has a profound impact on their lives and relationships.

Ann Patchett’s novels always have strong, well-developed characters, and she does dysfunctional families very well. The Dutch House provides plenty of fodder for discussion of parent/child and sibling relationships, and would make a great book club book.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
When narrator Danny Conroy was just a toddler, his father packed him, his mother, and his older sister into a borrowed car and drove them to a mansion that had belonged to a Dutch family who had made a fortune in cigarettes. To their surprise, father Cyril announced that this was their new home. The children were thrilled with the space and its history; their mother, not so much. A novice nun before her marriage, Elna still devoted her spare time to helping the less fortunate, and to her, the opulence of the house (and the servants who came with it) felt obscene. Within a year, she abandoned the family. The children are more or less raised by the servants; Fluffy, the young nanny, is dismissed suddenly and somewhat mysteriously, but the two sisters who maintain the household stay on.

It's no surprise, then, as many readers have noted, that the house itself actually becomes a character in its own right. There are good memories for Danny and his sister Maeve, although most of them occur before his father's remarriage to Andrea, a domineering, money hungry, status conscious younger woman with two daughters of her own. One of her first demands is that Maeve give her bedroom to one of her daughters and be sent to live on the distant third floor; instead, she leaves home. Maeve becomes Danny's protector and almost a second mother, making sacrifices to ensure that he gets a good education. Within days of Cyril's sudden death, Andrea kicks Danny out, although he is only 14. They learn that their father has left them absolutely nothing but an educational trust for Danny that reverts to Andrea if at any time he leaves school. Maeve's plan is to keep her brother in school as long as possible, if for no other reason than to spite Andrea.

That's the bare bones of the story, but there is much more to come as the plot weaves through more than 50 additional years. The Dutch House continues to haunt both the past and the present, and every so often, Maeve and Danny drive to the familiar street, park across from the house, and share memories and curses. Danny can't help but wonder how different their lives would have been had they never moved there. He blames the house for Elna's abandonment, the beginning of a negative influence on their personal lives that he just can't seem to shake.

I enjoyed the book, which is saved from being simply an evil stepmom story by the loving sibling relationship between Danny and Maeve that spans decades. The resolution is a bit contrived, yet still satisfying as not everything falls happily into place.
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
I always treasure a new Ann Patchett novel. Ever since Bel Canto I realized how talented she was and then went back to read earlier works like Run and The Magician's Assistant. This novel is unusual in style for her since it's written in first person from the perspective of Danny Conroy. He and his sister Maeve grow up in an elaborate 1922 mansion in Elkins Park that was commissioned by the VanHoebeek family, who made a fortune in cigarettes and filled their American home with European treasures, ornate mirrors, wood paneling, fanciful windows and blue Delft mantels. The house comes with servants as well. Their father takes great pride in buying it for their mother Elna, who hates it, and leaves to help the poor. A bit like a fairy tale, the evil step mother woos their father and takes over the house. As they grow older and closer, Maeve and Danny periodically drive over and visit the house, reminiscing about the various rooms and events. We read about their life over the next five decades but the house never seems far from the narrative. Patchett pulls out some nice twists that make for a satisfying ending. For me this was not quite as good as Commonwealth, but it's still highly recommended.

Some lines:

Head-up-shoulders-back might as well have been her name. For years he thumped her between the shoulder blades with the flat of his palm whenever he passed her in a room, the unintended consequence of which was that Maeve now stood like a soldier in the queen’s court, or like the queen herself. Even I could see how she might have been intimidating: her height, the shining black wall of hair, the way she would lower her eyes to look at a person rather than bend her neck. But at eight I was still comfortably smaller than the woman our father would later marry.

For the first time I was able to see how pretty she was, how happy and young. My father was forty-nine on the day of his second wedding, and his new wife in her champagne satin was thirty-one. Still, Maeve and I had no idea why he married her. Looking back, I have to say we lacked imagination.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
I love family sagas. This wasn’t that really. Don’t get me wrong. I loved this book. And it did tell the story of a family. But, how to say this, there wasn’t much of a plot so that made the character development the essence of the book. And the main character, Danny Conroy, tells the story of his life and that of his sister Maeve with ease. But it’s very hard to write as a person of another gender as Patchett does here and it’s a departure for her.

It’s really more of a story of a house, the eponymous Dutch House, located in the Pennsylvania countryside. Danny’s father, who was a real estate developer and builder, fell in love with the ornate house and bought it and presented it as a gift to his wife who, predictably, wanted no part of it. Now I don’t know about you but I don’t know too many wives who would be pleased to be presented with an expensive house for which they’ve had no input, a house that they were expected to hire servants for. I don’t want to get into too much detail but I will leave it at that because I’m starting to sound like I didn’t like the book and that’s not true. But I did like it more a few days ago when I finished it than I do now in retrospect. I certainly didn’t like it as well as her previous book, Commonwealth. But she certainly weaved together a lot of layers in this story and that made it very worthwhile. There was an episode towards the end where Danny committed the same fatal error as his father, which had me shaking my head and wondering if I was seeing things.>
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
Patchett is way up there on my, can't wait for next novel, list. Her characterizations, her insight into flawed families and her wry observations of human nature, are always top notched. In this, her soon to be published novel, she follows a family for five decades, a family that is broken apart, for reasons that I cannot at this time share. Brother and sister, Maeve and Danny, are extremely close, not unexpected since they are the only ones that are there for each other through thick and thin. Danny is our narrator, and from a young age, we are let into his thoughts and the actions of the other characters.

Dutch House, a house that their father bought to surprise their mother, is as much a character in this story, as are the actual characters. It is the cause of much of what happens here, a house with huge window that allows one to see all through the house. We follow not only the house itself, but the brother and sister as they grow, through their triumphs and losses. Sibling strength and family loyalty.

It is a novel of obsession but also of acceptance and forgiveness. The end, in a way comes full circle, but not without much heartache and loss. There were a few things that sparked the doubting Thomas in me, but all in all this is a wonderful read.

Another read with Angela and Esil, and though our ratings do differ a bit, we all enjoyed this novel.

ARC by Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member BooksForDinner
Excellent. This is the type of novel that could have ended up being 600 pages, but a brilliant author tells exactly as much as is needed. Genuinely feel like I know these people after reading this. Excellent.
LibraryThing member Jthierer
If you like Ann Patchett's style (not a lot happens; the characters, not the plot are the point) and subject matter (broken/blended families traced over time), then you'll probably appreciate this one. If that's not for you I'd give this one a pass. It's a pleasant enough read, but, for me, I didn't find any of the characters to be so engrossing that I wanted to spend any more time with them.… (more)
LibraryThing member mzonderm
Before I got more than a page or two into this book, I said to myself, "Wow, this is going to be a good book!" Myself replied, "Of course it is, it's by Ann Patchett." And indeed, this is one of Patchett's best books. The biggest criticism I can level is that it's a little self-indulgent at times, but the characters leap off the page, and are so true to themselves, that any self-indulgence was just a natural part of the progression of the story. I could go on and on about the language and the descriptions and everything else. I could even make a bad metaphor about how picking up this book was like rubbing velvet: it just felt perfect. But I won't. If you like Ann Patchett, you've already read this book. If you've never been introduced to her, this one is a great one to start with.

Actually, my biggest criticism of this book is the cover. I hate the cover.
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LibraryThing member Iudita
This is a very well written family drama that is brought to perfection by the audio narration of Tom Hanks. For those who use audio books, this is certainly a book to listen to. The plot in this novel is very quiet . Character development is the star performer here. You make intimate connections with the brother and sister whose lives this book is centered on. Finishing the book gave me the feeling of losing two friends. This is definitely one of my best reads this year.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beth.Clarke
I jumped into this novel and didn't put it down. I felt completely immersed in the characters' lives and needed to see what happened to them. Patchett's writing style is not complicated, but she does make use of foreshadowing in what I thought was a rather obvious, intentional way. I loved the narrator. It reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird in that the narrator was reflecting on his life as a now adult. He also lost a parent at a young age. It certainly was a coming-of-age story for Danny (rather like the beloved Scout). Through difficult times, the brother and sister, Danny and Maeve, are there for each other. Their stories made me laugh. The bits about Danny's careers is just hilarious. I loved their adventures and how they helped one another along the way. When I say Patchett's writing is not complicated, I don't mean simple. She has a way of moving a story along for the reader that make the words hold. I'll be thinking about The Dutch House for a long while.… (more)
LibraryThing member streamsong
“Not only could you see into the Dutch House, you could see straight through it. The house was shortened in the middle, and the deep foyer led directly into what we called the observatory, which had a wall of windows facing the backyard. From the driveway, you could let your eye go up the front steps , across the terrace, through the front doors, across the long marble floor of the foyer, through the observatory, and catch sight of the lilacs waving obliviously in the garden behind the house.” p 10

A budding real estate investor buys a house as a surprise for his wife. It’s an intricate architectural wonder with three stories, carved ceilings, observatory, gardens and a special window seat. All the elegant furniture and even the portraits on the walls are included.

But the developer had badly miscalculated his wife. She hated the house, ultimately leaving her son and daughter to follow her own dream of working with the poor in India.

So begin the twists and turns of the three generations that ultimately live in this house: miscalculations, outright cruelty, negligence, and even some love in unexpected places.

It is a story or relationships; often twisted, and sometimes met with grace – all through the lens of the see-through house.

People often say in reviews that they could not relate to the characters, or that they disliked them. I have always thought that was the point in reading fiction – to see into others’ worlds. However, in this book, I honestly can say I didn’t recognize fragments of myself in any of the characters, and it did make it hard to warm to the book. The ending was surprising – would I have that sort of forgiveness in me?… (more)
LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Ann Patchett’s latest book, The Dutch House, actually is about a house and the imperious shadow it casts over a family. Told through the eyes and voice of Danny Conroy, the narrative winds effortlessly back and forth through time eventually bringing readers from his childhood to middle age. Life in the Dutch House is not always easy for Danny and his sister, Maeve, and the real crux of the novel always comes back to the bond forged between them. “The story of my sister was the only one I was ever meant to tell,” Danny says near the end of the book, and it seems to be true. Maeve manages to be the center of everything, even while details of her life remain elusive to Danny and the reader. At a brief 265 pages, The Dutch House is ultimately a character sketch about dysfunctional families, siblings, and how they move forward in spite of their past. As always, Patchett’s writing shines, and readers who appreciate her style will still gobble up this novel even if the plot and story remain a bit thin.… (more)
LibraryThing member amysan
Ann Patchett is one of my favorite authors and I was so excited to read this book! It's the story of a brother and sister trying to make sense of their past and present, all of which seems to be tied up in their childhood home, the Dutch House. The writing is beautiful and I really enjoyed the storyline. Thank you to Netgalley and Harper for letting me read this book early in exchange for an honest review.… (more)
LibraryThing member jillrhudy
I received an advanced readers copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. “The Dutch House” starts off slow but deepens and brightens in a long slow burn of Patchett’s genius. A natural for book clubs with its complex interrelationships, the book gets better and better right to the last page.

Over decades, with first-person narrator Danny and his beloved sister Maeve Conroy at the center, connections are broken, shuffled, and reforged. Old scores get settled or fade into irrelevance with the passage of time. Characters, even Danny, evolve in surprising ways. The house itself could be counted as a character in the novel, and the opulent mansion is both embraced and rejected, by turns holding characters in its thrall and forgotten—almost.
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LibraryThing member adrianburke
Not a Patch(ett) on 'Commonwealth'. Mother's return defies belief and the novel sags the minute she comes on the scene. Nor does the narrator's wife somer to life because she was never really in his life. And the ending is sheer la-la.
LibraryThing member sleahey
Danny Conroy as the narrator in this novel could be considered the main character. Or is it Maeve, his sister, who is most central to the story? Or maybe their absent mother, who abandoned them when Danny was a baby for reasons never explained to them, whose loss was the focus of their lives? Or was it the Dutch House, the extravagant mansion where they grew up and experienced so much loss? Patchett has woven an intricate story of love and betrayal, thanks to the complex characters developed through Danny's eyes. Even though we know he is an unreliable narrator due to the intensity of his emotions, he is a sharp observer of those around him and can describe people and situations in an engaging fashion. The plot moves around in time, but it makes sense as events shift back and forth between childhood, teens, early adulthood, and a present of sorts. Finally, the Dutch House embodies complex family relationships, their ebb and flow, secrets, failed expectations, and resolutions.… (more)
LibraryThing member Dianekeenoy
An incredible book!
LibraryThing member froxgirl
It's so difficult to isolate exactly how Ann Patchett cranks out such non-formulaic and memorable novels. The plots and characters are always unique, but maybe it's her innate ability to choose the perfect narrator(s) for each story and have them share all in down-to-earth, never flowery, prose. This one is the tale of a museum-like house and the two children who love it, abandoned by their mother and thrown away by their stepmother. Told by son Danny but dominated by daughter Maeve, a cipher but in a good way. Their father is also a cipher, but in a bad way. Danny's eventual recognition of his doomed-to-repeat-it refusal to learn from his father's history is devastating.

Quotes: "Both of the kids were sleeping, and even though a fire truck could come waiting down Broadway and not disturb their dreams, the sound of their parents arguing could pull them straight up from a coma."

"There is no story of the prodigal mother."

"A high-pitched whine seemed to emanate from her misery, like fluorescent tubing just before it burns out, like tinnitus, something nearly imperceptible that almost drove me to insanity."

"The kids were stashed in the den to eat off card tables like a collection of understudies who dreamed of one day breaking into the dining room."
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
Beautiful and engaging story, but it felt like it was missing a reason for being.
LibraryThing member SamSattler
Those who enjoy multi-generational family sagas that take place over a number of decades (me among them) are going to enjoy Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House. The story is told over a fifty-year period during which the Cyril Conroy family manages to go from poverty, to riches, back to poverty, and then back to riches again all without really trying very hard to make, or stop, any of it from happening. Passivity, in fact, seems to be a Conroy family trait – and going-along-to-get-along is not the best approach to dealing with a sociopathic gold-digger, a lesson Cyril didn’t live long enough to learn.

The ominous tone of The Dutch House is set in the book’s first chapter when Danny, the narrator, explains how he and his sister Maeve ended up living in such a large Philadelphia home with their father and the two women (themselves sisters) who did all the cooking and cleaning. Cyril had purchased the old mansion, complete with every physical possession owned by the Dutch family that owned it before him, without telling his wife that he was doing so. Mistake number one. Mistake number two came a few years later when Cyril let Andrea, a woman eighteen years his junior, wheedle her way into the Dutch House for good. Andrea was not so much the stereotypical evil stepmother, she was more the indifferent stepmother. Indifferent, that is, until the day she was able finally to banish the newly penniless siblings from her life forever.

Now Danny and Maeve have only each other to depend on, and Maeve literally takes to sleeping on the couch of her tiny apartment so that the taller Danny will have a place to sleep at night. Maeve, who has always been more mother to Danny than sister, is suddenly thrust into the role of being her brother’s only protector, a role she claims as hers for the rest of her life. Danny, on his part, deeply feels their special bond and is always there when his sister needs him.
Danny and Maeve eventually get on with their lives but, no matter how hard they may try, neither can ever forget all they lost to Andrea and how the indifference of their mother and father allowed it all to happen. Now, the two of them feel most comfortable when sitting together in a parked car across the street from the Dutch House talking about the past and what was stolen from them. And for years and years, every time Danny visits Philadelphia that’s exactly what they do. But can they ever really be happy as long as they allow the past to eat at them this way? And what will happen to Danny and Maeve when they are finally forced to confront the people who treated them so shabbily all those years ago? Will they ever be ready for that moment?

Bottom Line: The Dutch House is the kind of beautifully written novel that readers have come to expect from Ann Patchett, one filled with nuanced characters and (at times melodramatic) situations that will leave those readers thinking about them long after they have turned the book’s final page. Patchett uses multiple flashforwards and flashbacks to build tension all throughout the novel, sprinkling hints along the way as to what Danny and Maeve still have to endure before their story is finally told. And what a story, it is.

(Perhaps it’s just me, but The Dutch House reminds me very much of the kind of novel I’ve come to expect from Anne Tyler, another of my favorite writers.)
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LibraryThing member Lit.Lover
Spellbinding family saga centred on a house once owned by early Dutch settlers in small-town Pennsylvania.
LibraryThing member DrApple
I must admit, I am not sure whether I really loved this book or the fact that I listened to it as an audiobook, and it was narrated by Tom Hanks. Hanks' narration is so soothing and entertaining. The book itself is the tale of a brother, a sister, and a house. The brother ages from a small child to a grown man. He marries, has children, builds a successful business, but through it all he remains extremely close to his sister and shares her obsession with the house they grew up in but were cheated out of by something of a wicked step-mother. The characters are very real, and Patchett's description, as always, makes it seem as if you are there. I would highly recommend this, especially as an audiobook anyway.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Maeve and Danny are siblings raised is a unique mansion in Pennsylvania. The story follows their relationship over the course of decades. Through Danny’s eyes we see their lives carry forward even when they can’t help but fixate on the past. This book is a reminder that the plot matters very little in the hands of a gifted writer. Patchett has an incredible skill for building flawed characters that resonate deeply. Even though the action seems mundane, I couldn’t put it down.

She’s even manage to make the house itself a character. The book me and do some long jumping back-and-forth in Maeve and Danny’s timelines, but always with their connection as the tie that binds. Seeing the world through Danny’s eyes allows us to understand the siblings close ties. When their mother returns, their roles reverse. Now after decades of being a caregiver, Maeve is finally being cared for. It’s something that shakes Danny’s world in an understandable way. Another thing I love about this book is Patchett’s ability to craft deeply flawed characters. No one is perfect, they have a variety of motivations and the reader doesn’t always know every inch of that. They make selfish decisions or petty ones, and they feel so real because he is the storyteller, my loyalty is obviously lies with him in Maeve. But even Andrea, relegated to the role will be able stepmother, and Celeste, the harpy wife, are both described at times with fondness. And I think we understand that we aren’t seeing them as fully developed people, because Danny refused to.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved it. My favorite Patchett since Bel Canto.
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LibraryThing member andsoitgoes
Ann Patchett has an amazing skill to grab you and not let you go with her novels. The Dutch House is one of these but unlike her other books I was very frustrated with some of the characters. For instance, there was no background provided about one of the characters obsession with the house and the inability of the other characters to treat the mother as something other than a saint (except Danny) was not believable. As a librarian I am finding it hard to recommend this to my patrons who have enjoyed Patchett's stories in the past.… (more)
LibraryThing member SignoraEdie
I enjoyed this book. It was more a character study...one of the characters being "The Dutch House" and how siblings lives are affected with the arrival of a step-mother. A reminder that each family member has there own memories of how an event took place!

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