Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Dutch House

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (2019)

I don't think I ever bothered to read the description of this book, because I had the idea that it was a historical novel that took place in the Netherlands and had something to do with art, maybe. That is not at all what it is about. The only Dutch thing in this book is the house, which used to be owned by the Van Hoebeek family. They're all dead now; the house was bought by Cyril Conroy for his wife, who ended up hating it. But the story is about their kids, Maeve and Danny, and their longstanding obsession with the house.

When they're very young, their mother leaves and doesn't come back. Their father marries a horrid woman named Andrea who brings two little (not horrid) girls of her own to the house. Several years later, events result in the banishment of Maeve and Danny from the house. They're on their own with nobody except each other to rely on.

The story is mostly about Danny and Maeve's relationship. They are very close, enough that when Danny eventually has a serious girlfriend, she and Maeve resent each other. I didn't like Cecilia either; it was hard to, given that her role was primarily supporting Danny, begging him to marry her, and being jealous of his sister. And his sister always came first in his life.

Years after leaving the Dutch House, Danny and Maeve still go back and park on the nearby street to watch the house. They talk a lot about the house and their lives growing up. They can't let it go. They have unfinished business though - their mother could still be alive out there somewhere and although Danny was too young to really remember her, Maeve has always longed to have her mother back.

The story follows the two from when they are kids to middle age, so it spans decades. It's hard to describe what is so compelling about this story, but it is. It's told from Danny's viewpoint and I really enjoyed reading it from his perspective. He and Maeve were both great characters to immerse oneself in, and even though their lives weren't super eventful or exciting, the story is told so well, as is often the case with Ann Patchett. I liked it more than her last book, Commonwealth, which had too many characters and jumped around a bit too much for me. She writes so well about family and relationships though; her books are always a pleasure.

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