The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

J. L. Harland • March 1st, 2021

Ann Patchett is the winner of the PEN/Faulker Award. She also won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2002 with Bel Canto.

The story is told through the eyes of Danny, the protagonist, so we are aware we are having a biased view of the tale. Everything is seen from his perspective and weaves effortlessly between past and present.

The house itself is a mansion; a place of wealth and beauty, bought by their father as a symbol of his success. He was a self-made man who had property all over the city. The house was also the reason their mother, Elna, left. She felt overwhelmed by the richness of the Dutch House and ran away to India to help with the poor. The remnants of the previous occupants, the VanHoebeeks, were left in the house, including a maid, Fluffy, who looked after Danny and Maeve when they were children.

The Dutch House, where Danny and his sister Maeve grew up, and were then evicted from, overshadows their lives. It becomes both something to be desired and also something that is a weight on their lives. An injustice dealt at the hands of their father’s second wife, Andrea, who inherited the house and the profitable business when their father died from a heart attack.

Maeve is seen as a central character. Her obsession with the house dominates her life and her desire to seek revenge from Andrea. As Danny’s older sister she manipulates his life, sending him to expensive schools and medical training, after learning that provision had been made for their education. Danny, however, is obsessed with property development and ownership. He wants to follow his father’s footsteps.

Time moves forwards and backwards in this skilfully told story. It is engrossing, a compelling read, divided into three parts. Maeve is taken ill and has a surprise visitor at the hospital – Elna. When Maeve and Danny do step inside the house after several years, they find it still as beautiful, but Andrea is in the grip of dementia. In a strange twist of fate, Elna stays to nurse her.

At the end there is resolution of a sort. It is a strange sort of justice, a fitting end to a story of love and betrayal, resilience and human nature explored through the eyes of a confident storyteller. Absorbing.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is published by Bloomsbury. She has written seven novels and three non-fiction books and been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, winning in 2012, as well as winning the PEN/Faulkner prize.

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