Originally published: 24 September 2019 (Paperback 30 Apr 2020)
Author: Ann Patchett
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Reading dates: 29 April – 3 May 2020
Danny and Maeve Conroy grow up in the Dutch House, an amazing mansion in Pennsylvania. The house was bought by their father Cyril for their mother Elna when Maeve was small and Danny was yet to be born. The house came complete with all the furnishings left behind by the houses previous owners, the Van Hoebeek’s and the portraits of the previous owners still reside on the walls. Yet the house never made their mother happy and after taking many trips leaving the children at home, one day she doesn’t come back. Maeve (10) and Danny (3) are left in the care of their distant father and the staff, Fluffy their nanny (who came with the house) and sisters Jocelyn and Sandy who do the cooking and housekeeping.
Maeve is devastated when her mother leaves for good and develops diabetes which makes her seriously ill on more than one occasion, which Fluffy thinks is bought on by the loss of her mother. Danny and Maeve are very close and life is comfortable for the siblings. One day, their father introduces them to Andrea, who herself comes with two small daughters, Norma and Bright, and before long they are married. Andrea soon asserts her authority in the house, giving away Maeve’s bedroom to one of her daughters while Maeve is at college. When tragedy strikes, the siblings are banished by Andrea from the house and this action will haunt Maeve and Danny for the rest of their lives.
I have wanted a copy of The Dutch House for a while and then won a copy in a competition and of course it sat on my shelf. Then the lovely people over at Tandem Collective held a readalong and it was the prompt I needed to pick this up off my shelf. And I am so glad I did! I just adored this so much.
Told from Danny’s point of view the story begins with the siblings sitting outside the Dutch House in Maeve’s car and then goes back in time to their childhood, following them through adolescence. Maeve is intelligent and is very good at maths but ends up working as a book keeper for a small company selling frozen vegetables rather than reaching her full potential because she wants to protect Danny. I loved how Maeve looks after Danny and her deviousness in getting a small victory over Andrea is a great point in the book. When the siblings discovers a trust fund from their father for the education of Danny, Norma and Bright, Maeve makes sure to send Danny to an expensive boarding school followed by medical college to make sure he uses up as much of the funds as he can, even though her really doesn’t even want to be a doctor. She always looks out for him but when Maeve needs Danny, he is there for her too, looking after her when she is in ill health. Their closeness is so touching – I adored their relationship.
Set over 5 decades, which sees Danny meet and fall in love with Celeste, have two children of their own and the inevitable return of their mother, I love a family saga novel and this one ticked all the boxes. I could talk for ever and ever about the plot but I’d prefer for you to discover this for yourself. I loved Patchett’s writing style and was so immersed in their lives. The house itself is such a focal point of the book and I don’t mind admitting I spent some time Googling houses in Elkins Park to try and find the house in my imagination! I adored the relationship between Maeve and Danny and I am thrilled to have discovered a new author, with an extensive backlist. This will certainly be included in one of my books of the year.
About the author:
Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California. Her mother is the novelist Jeanne Ray.
She moved to Nashville, Tennessee when she was six, where she continues to live. Patchett said she loves her home in Nashville with her doctor husband and dog. If asked if she could go any place, that place would always be home. “Home is …the stable window that opens out into the imagination.”
Patchett attended high school at St. Bernard Academy, a private, non-parochial Catholic school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy. Following graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and took fiction writing classes with Allan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. She later attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she met longtime friend Elizabeth McCracken. It was also there that she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars.
In 2010, when she found that her hometown of Nashville no longer had a good book store, she co-founded Parnassus Books with Karen Hayes; the store opened in November 2011. In 2012, Patchett was on the Time 100 list of most influential people in the world by TIME magazine.