...the question of what, if any, kind of reconciliation with the past might still be achieved after such a profound betrayal gives The Dutch House an irresistible narrative drive. It’s a mark of Patchett’s skill that the novel’s bold fairytale elements – its doubles and archetypes, its two children left to find their own way back to their home after being expelled – add up to a story that feels wholly naturalistic...It’s a rare Patchett novel that ends without the slightest glimmer of redemption, and here the major players virtually all – as in a story by James – arrive at final positions that involve an ironic inversion of where they started. Danny’s eventual accommodation of the past, and of his family’s choices, seems both inevitable and earned.
Ann Patchett just gets better and better. Her pitch-perfect eighth novel skewers family life in small-town, 20th-century Pennsylvania. Narrator Danny Conroy grows up in the titular house with an absent mother and distant father and as an evil stepmother makes her life-changing mark on his childhood, he ponders years later whether it’s possible to “see the past as it actually was”. With more than a nod to Henry James, The Dutch House is quietly devastating, often mysterious – and rather beautiful in its effortlessly readable melancholy.
In the absence of the banal, everyday mementos most people take for granted, the siblings can only haunt the old house, which remains unchanged, even as their memories inflate, warp and fade. If occasionally a little twee, Patchett’s novel is a finely crafted excavation of the past and a generous study of the silence and unconscious communication within families. ‘We overlay the present onto the past,’ acknowledges Danny to his sister ruefully. ‘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.’
The idea that looking back and loss are intertwined and that fate is a series of chance events is unassertively demonstrated. The sheer ease of Patchett’s writing, her warm humour, natural dialogue and the clever unfolding of fictional justice keep the reader engrossed and enlightened. Her publishers have supported her artistic aims with a dust jacket which features items from the fictional Dutch House: a portrait of a dark-haired ten-year-old girl and a design of Delft tiles.
Brimming with intertextualities, Patchett’s prose is confident and meticulous from the opening page; this novel draws you in and holds you safely in its hands until her work is done. The work, like the opulent glass house of its namesake, is clear, solidly structured and purposeful; the style of traditional storytelling that in a less skilled practitioner might appear old-fashioned here becomes transcendent in its simplicity. If a quiet, psychological, family drama could ever be considered a thriller, then this is the book to achieve it. Deserving of the praise it has garnered already, The Dutch House, may prove to be the defining novel of Patchett’s career.
The Dutch House is beautifully written and often tender, but the central characters aren’t vivid enough for this book to be among Patchett’s very finest. The siblings feel a bit flat and underdeveloped... But just as the siblings were starting to annoy me, Patchett introduces their long-lost mother into the story. It became apparent that the first two thirds of The Dutch House are in fact describing what the loss of this allegedly saintly person has done to them... This becomes that rare thing: a novel which reveals greater riches on second reading, once one knows how it works out. The final section is wonderful. Patchett avoids any easy answers, and reconciliation turns out to be as bitter as it is sweet.
Much of the book is a meditation on how profound loss colours every subsequent relationship. The siblings’ deep bond is forged through the absence of their former home; hours are spent sitting in a car outside the house. “It’s like you’re Hansel and Gretel,” Danny’s wife, accuses him, accurately. For Maeve, meanwhile, the loss of her mother is inextricably linked to her own exile and the house becomes the embodiment of her pain: ‘‘‘[Andrea] stole from us, do you not understand that? They’re sleeping in our beds and eating off our plates and we will never get any of it back.’ I nodded. What I wanted to say was that I’d been thinking the same thing about our father. We would never get him back.”
The Dutch House offers plenty to enjoy: a simultaneous awareness of human fragility and human resilience, lots of perfectly realised scenes, some great phrasemaking. Nonetheless, the question remains as to whether the novel’s basic framework is ultimately strong enough to bear the weight of all it needs to support. Maybe recognising the problem, towards the end Patchett throws in any number of undisclosable twists. Yet, rather than shoring up the novel, these seem suspiciously like evidence that she couldn’t quite find a satisfactory way to end Danny’s never-ending story.
The looping timeline of The Dutch House deepens the emotional charge of its family drama. Patchett tends to dwell upon our mistaken choices... The melancholy realism with which Patchett draws out the unrealised potential of her characters feels downright un-American, yet her storytelling is leavened by moments of grace and reconciliation. Both victory and defeat, after all, peter out to nothing in the end. Indelibly poignant in its long unspooling perspective on family life, The Dutch House brilliantly captures how time undoes all certainties.
Patchett, whose best work includes the Orange Prize-winning Bel Canto (2001) and the Heart of Darkness-inspired State of Wonder (2011), writes novels that glide along with clear-sighted precision and unexpected interventions. The premise of The Dutch House leads to the initial expectation that Danny and Maeve will be locked in life-long litigation, pace Dickens’s Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Bleak House, to recover their heritage. Instead the house and its inhabitants disappear from view for decades, although it remains embedded in family lore, kept alive by the interest of May, Danny’s actress daughter, with whom the novel will finally come full circle... The Dutch House is a novel that assures Patchett, alongside John Irving and Anne Tyler, a place as one of the foremost chroniclers of the burdens of emotional inventory and its central place in American lives.
The Dutch House is an intimate and transporting novel that crystallises Patchett’s favourite theme: the experience of being a stepchild. The author, who has seven stepsiblings, once said that all her stories, including the Orange prize-winning Bel Canto (2001), ostensibly about a hostage crisis, were really about being ripped out of one family and forcibly stuck into another, with no escape. The theme manifested most nakedly in Commonwealth (2016), about two sets of siblings dragged into the same orbit after their parents’ adulterous affair. Now Patchett’s eighth novel explores how destructive parental passions, in this case for a house, can haunt children into adulthood... She has a talent for alighting on poignant situations that evoke the interlocking oddness and ordinariness of human existence. The result is a searching, exquisitely wrenching novel about family, sacrifice and obsession.
Patchett’s prose is confident, unfussy and unadorned. I can’t pluck out one sentence worth quoting, but how effective they are when woven together — these translucent lines that envelop you like a spider’s web. It can feel old-fashioned: her style, her attachment to a very traditional kind of storytelling — a vision of the novel as a Dutch house, with a clarity and transparency of purpose and method, a refusal of narrative tricksiness. But like the family’s Dutch house, it’s an enduring structure, which gives an added dimension to the references in the text — its way of gesturing toward a lineage... “The love between humans is the thing that nails us to this earth,” Patchett wrote in her memoir “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” — a belief her new novel shares but shades with caution. There’s no missing the statement’s brutal, brilliant ambivalence.
Ann Patchett is a terrific novelist to have in your back pocket — an Orange Prize-winning storyteller whose reliably sympathetic novels get right inside the mysterious bonds and fractures that make up American family life. Still, I’m not sure her most recent is her best...
Patchett’s portrayal of the many alternative ways one person can care for another in this world is interesting, but, after a glittering start, the momentum of this sprawling novel fatally ebbs.
The novel unfolds in a stately way, as befits the house that we now believe we too once lived in. Danny and Maeve, as attached as twins, even as the decades trip by, are continually fascinating. Various interlopers, such as children and wives, nannies and stepsisters, come and go, receive only respectful interest. My only quibble, other than the maddening information void that at times had me scrabbling ahead in the book, is that the ending feels a little too neat and tidy.
We expect a lot from Patchett. She has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction three times, winning it in 2002 for her hostage crisis novel Bel Canto. This one does not let her, or us, down.
This is a novel that makes the reader reflect upon how much anyone ever knows about a family, about the truth of any relationship. Patchett’s great gift is the way she builds intimacy between her characters and the reader. By the end of the book we feel deeply involved in the Conroys’ ordinary extraordinary lives. Her style is fluid and evocative, whether she is describing the shell of a building in Harlem or Andrea’s brittle fury. If the novel has a flaw, it is perhaps that Andrea fulfils just too much the wicked stepmother role, but then the book is pleasingly scattered with literary allusion... This is a fine book, perfectly conveying familial bonds and familial wounds. Ann Patchett gives us a detailed portrait of one particular family; but I’m betting that every reader will find something of the Conroys within themselves.
Ann Pratchett writes novels that quietly and thoroughly devastate the reader – in a good way. Her new novel is no exception. The Dutch House is about a brother and sister, Danny and Maeve, who are exiled from their family home by their stepmother. The siblings spend the rest of their lives unable to process their banishment or the secrets that are still hidden behind its doors.
The latest from the Orange Prize-winner is a masterful tale of family, love, sacrifice, betrayal and the nature of "home". In small-town Pennsylvania, Danny grows up in the splendid Dutch House with his distant father and his elder sister Maeve. His mother is absent and nobody speaks of her. One day his father brings home Andrea, soon to be his wife, whose presence will change Danny and Maeve’s future. They will be "drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past." Just stunning, do not miss.