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#DutchHouseAtHome #Bookreview by Ann Patchett (@BloomsburyBooks) A beautiful family saga full of magic and compelling writing

Hi all:

I’ve read great reviews of this novel and I couldn’t resist. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett


An unforgettably powerful new novel of the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go – from the Number One New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and Bel Canto

‘The book of the autumn. The American author of Commonwealth (brilliant) and Bel Canto (even better) releases perhaps her finest novel yet’ – Sunday Times

‘The buzz around The Dutch House is totally justified. Her best yet, which is saying something’ – John Boyne

“’Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer.”

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish mansion. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her wit, her brilliance. Life is coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house’s former owners in the frames of their oil paintings.

Then one day their father brings Andrea home. Though they cannot know it, her arrival to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve’s lives. The siblings are drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own exile is that of their mother’s: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.

Told with Ann Patchett’s inimitable blend of humour, rage and heartbreak, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale and story of a paradise lost; of the powerful bonds of place and time that magnetize and repel us for our whole lives.

Author Ann Patchett
Author Ann Patchett

About the author:

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In 1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In 1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Patchett’s second novel, Taft, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third novel, The Magician’s Assistant, was short-listed for England’s Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006. Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender.

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I’ve heard of Ann Patchett but hadn’t read any of her novels until now, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to get started. And I really liked the book cover and was intrigued by the title as well. Having read this novel, I’m sure it won’t be the last of the author’s books I read.

Although most reviews are positive, some readers who are familiar with her previous novels felt disappointed, while others loved it as much, if not more, as her previous work. As I said, I have nothing to compare it with, but I enjoyed it. I loved the characters (most of all), I loved the setting, and the writing, that can be lyrical, touching, and humorous in turns.

This is the story of a family, or, to be precise, of two siblings and the people they meet along the way. Maeve and Danny become a family-unit through unfortunate (and at times bizarre) circumstances. Their mother leaves when Danny, the younger of the two, is only three years old, and Maeve becomes his sister/mother/life coach/career advisor and many more things. Their father, Cyril, a real estate magnate, is consumed by his business and never explains much, either about his background, their mother, or the house, the Dutch House of the title. When he marries Andrea, who has two daughters of her own, things change, and when he dies, things take an even more dramatic turn.

The story, such as it is, is narrated in the first person by Danny, who claims to have intended to tell the story of his sister (a rather extraordinary individual I’d love to meet in real life), but he realised that this could not be done in isolation from his own and from that of many others who had also played parts in the events they might not have been fully aware of at the time. Although there is an overall chronological order to the novel, Danny’s memory sometimes circles back and forth to moments or events that are related or linked, at least in his mind, to what he is thinking or talking about at the time. He explores the memories around the Dutch House (a seemingly mysterious place although things don’t go in the direction readers might expect), and how the different people seem to have contrasting versions of what went on and totally different feelings about it as well. Was their mother a saint, or a heartless woman who abandoned her children in her eagerness to help unknown others? Was Andrea a greedy woman (the wicked stepmother of fairy tales) who married their father for his money and then threw them out? Or did she truly love him and resented them for their connection to him? Was Maeve domineering and manipulative or selfless and generous? Why didn’t Danny’s wife, Celeste, and his sister get on? What power did the Dutch House have over its inhabitants?

As I have already mentioned, I loved the characters. Although we don’t get to know all of them completely (this is the story Danny is telling, and at times he can be remarkably lacking in insight and even curiosity), that is part of the charm of the story. This would make a great novel for book clubs, as there is much to discuss, and I am sure different readers will have totally different opinions on the characters and their possible motives and/or justifications. Interpretations are left open, and although there is an end (yes, a happy ending of sorts), the ending does not necessarily provide an explanation for everything that happens, at least not a definitive one. As is the case in real life, people are unknowable, and even those we think we know best can surprise us at times.

I also loved the house. The similarities to a fairy tale are mentioned in the description and in many of the reviews, and perhaps because we first see the house from the perspective of a little boy, there is something magical about it. There are secret drawers, paintings of previous owners, gold leaf decorations, hidden storage places, and the house seems to hold an ongoing influence over those who’ve ever lived or worked there. I would love to visit it, and the combination of grand mansion and some of the characteristics of a gothic castle work well and give it a strong personality, although it might not live up to everybody’s expectations.

I have read some of the negative comments, and I do understand them and don’t necessarily disagree with the points they make, although I feel they don’t detract from the novel. Some people note that there is no plot or story behind it and complain that it is slow. This is a family saga, and as such there is no conventional plot or a great revelation (there are quite a few secrets and misunderstandings that get cleared out, but that is not the same) at the end. Because this is a book about memory, family life, growing older, and forgiveness, it is not a straightforward narration or a page-turner where the main point is to keep the action moving. Life happens at its own pace; there are funny moments, sad moments, enlightening moments, inspiring ones, and disappointments as well. The writing is compelling, but people who love stories full of action and a quick pace should not attempt this novel, unless they are willing to try something different. Some readers also complain that some of the storylines are unrealistic… Well, this is a novel, and I’ve read some that required a much higher degree of suspension of disbelief than this one, but I am sure realism is not what the author was after.

I loved this novel and would recommend it to readers who appreciate a focus on character, beautiful writing, and some touches of magic and are fond of the adult fairy-tale. As usual, I recommend readers who aren’t sure if they’d enjoy it or not, to try a book sample and see how they feel. I look forward to reading more of Patchett’s stories in the future. I have the feeling that they won’t disappoint.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher and the author, and most of all, thanks to all of you, my friends. Keep reading, reviewing and smiling!

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

16 replies on “#DutchHouseAtHome #Bookreview by Ann Patchett (@BloomsburyBooks) A beautiful family saga full of magic and compelling writing”

I think you’d had fun picking up the cast. And I am sure if they managed to find a house like the one in the book, it would be wonderful as well. A fascinating book and a great writer. Thanks, Pete!

Olga, this is a valuable review. I think your insights here would help anyone who might be on the fence, in regard to their comprehension of the story, to better understand and enjoy it. I hope you are having a terrific Tuesday. Hugs on the wing.

Thorough and balanced review, Olga as always:) I’m loved this novel, but I’m biased because I love family sagas and Ann Patchett’s writing and storytelling skills are superlative. This is not a fast paced thriller, which I also love, this is literary fiction, readers should be aware of the difference. I enjoy both genres, but there are significant differences.

Thanks, Luccia. I saw your review, and it reminded me that I had the book and wanted to read it. I try to address some of the general comments in reviews if I see many people say the same things, because sometimes the descriptions and the quotes used to promote a book can confuse people or give them false expectations. You are right, though. Different genres call for different styles of writing and readers’ expectations should reflect that. Enjoy the rest of the week and thanks for the comment.

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii Olga! Wow, first of all, I thought you were on vacation! I hadn’t seen you around until I saw your comment yesterday on Sally’s blog. I left you a comment asking if you’d been away. Apparently, Robbie Cheadle saw my comment and replied that you have been actively posting but there’s a good chance WP auto made me unfollow you. Wow, I’m so sorry I haven’t been by. Goes to show we cannot trust WP with their shenanigans. On another front – what a coincidence! I ordered this book in paperback last week and just received it! Right up my reading alley, and now looking even more forward to reading! Also, I’ve re-signed up to receive your blog posts, once again. I hope what has happened in the past doesn’t happen again when I start getting duplicate emails, lol. But so glad I caught this review! Now when I don’t get notification from your blog posts, I’ll just head over, knowing there’s a glitch. Wondering if it’s just me or you notice some of your regulars haven’t been around? <3

Thanks, Debby. I wondered but assumed you must be working on something, going on a Black Friday shopping spree, or perhaps were trying NaNoWriMo, although I kept coming across some of your posts in a variety of places, and many great reviews of your books (congratulations, by the way!). I must confess to not keeping a close watch on likes, but I do try to reply to comments as much as I can. A few of my subscriptions to other blogs seemed to disappear for a week or were delayed for a few days, but now I’m wondering if I have also missed some posts… You’re right about the changes in WP. Even when they affect one’s blog directly, or you don’t think they do, they still have an impact because of what happens to the larger community. Thanks for your patience and ongoing support. And thanks to Robbie for the clarification.
I’m sure you’ll love this book. I keep coming across great reviews, and I’m happy to have finally caught up with this author.
See you soon! ♥

Thanks Olga, good to be back 🙂 So you too have been missing posts? That’s interesting. And what is more puzzling is that I checked my junk mail and you weren’t there either, that’s why I thought you were away. Now I’m going to have to do a mission scouring around blogs I haven’t seen for awhile. Very suspicious! 🙂 <3

It’s weird, indeed. I know Teagan had problems with her comments (although she thought it might have to do with her internet connection) and another one of the bloggers I follow had problems signing onto other blogs as well, so it’s all a bit weird. The weirdest thing is that I’ve read plenty of books about bloggers recently, but the characters never seem to have any of these kinds of problems! Hopefully, we’ll all find each other again. It would be a nice Christmas present if WP sorted itself out… Enjoy the rest of the week!

Amen to that Olga! Don’t forget we’ve been in and still are in a crazy Mercury Retrograde, which tends to fudge up anything technical. <3 Hope floats. 🙂

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