The Dutch House
Ann Patchett’s new book The Dutch House has been a refreshing reading experience for me. Every other book I’ve read recently seems to be about sociopaths, and it’s nice to read about characters I’d be happy to meet in real life. It’s beautifully written—a very literate book—and full of fairytale and allegory. All of this is underneath the surface, while the narrative drives along with a most compelling plot, and extremely engaging characters. Danny is the narrator, and we first meet him and his sister Maeve as young adults, sitting in a car, watching their old house. This house is the eponymous Dutch House—a marvellous old mansion, that either bewitches or repels the characters in the book. Patchett takes us back and forth in time, unfolding the story of the inhabitants of the house. Danny and Maeve are abandoned by their mother very early on in the book, and their father remarries Andrea—a great admirer of the house, but an unwilling stemother. Full of surprises, the plot unravels and reveals itself in a most compelling way. Wonderfully detailed descriptions of the house, with its secret nooks that charm Danny and Maeve, and its opulence that alienates their mother; the family portraits of the original owners, (and one of the beautiful Maeve) dominating the house, and its wooden panels full of flying swallows, all of this adds layers of symbolism to the book, and adds to sense of place, and the mystery of the house, that resonates throughout. It is full of literary allusions too, The Great Gatsby comes to mind, as well as Hansel and Gretel, and Cinderella, and later in the book, when two of the characters reunite, they discover they both love Marilynne Robinson’s masterpiece of parental abandonment, Housekeeping—a small but revealing detail. The Dutch House is a memorable book, it’s stayed with me since I read it, and I can’t wait to read it again.