The Dutch House is aptly named - the majestic house at its centre was built on the outskirts of Philadelphia by the VanHoebeek's who had immigrated to the US before the WWI.
The business-savvy Cyril Conroy buys the house and everything in it to surprise his wife, Elma and their young children, Maeve and Danny. Overwhelmed by the huge change from living frugally in a very small house to living in a grand old house, with a cook, a cleaner and a nanny, the young mother eventually abandons her family.
Written from Danny's point of view, this is a novel about family, abandonment and its effects, hanging on the past and not letting go. Danny's sister, Maeve, seven years his senior, becomes his mentor and protector, while the two sisters working as cook and cleaner, respectively, take on the caring roles.
When things get worse for the two siblings, their relationship is what gives them strength, their intelligence and ambition what propels them further to outward success.
The Dutch House features prominently throughout the novel. Detested, loved, admired, longed for, the house pulls at the hearts and memories of those who lived in it.
Spanning over five decades, at times, the story sags as it becomes quite mundane. But it's very readable; the details, the little scenes and recollections make it very lifelike. You know how it is, you're a teen, then you study, begin your grown-up life and then, bam! you wonder what happened to time, when did you get to be forty, fifty etc. The last quarter picks up the pace, quite a lot happens.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, the characterisations were excellent, the descriptions, of the house in particular, were quite vivid. The siblings' relationship was incredibly tight and unique.
Ann Patchett is one of my absolute favourite authors. I love her gentle but pointed prose and I look forward with eager anticipation for every new book. This book did not disappoint, the tone is so perfect and she drew me in from the first sentences. It is always such a relief when an author you love delivers you another book that you love.
This is the story of a brother and sister, their mother has 'run away to India' as they are told when they are children. Danny and Maeve are left with their father, Cyril, in a magnificent house, a house which has remained largely untouched after the previous owners died, the house has personality, it is glass and from the street you can see all the way through it, nobody else in their town has a house anything like this mansion, but a lovely house doesn't necessarily mean a happy home. The children live there with their largely absent father and the housekeepers and cook who look after them as if they were their own. Maeve is considerably older than Danny and assumes the role of his protector and this continues all their lives. It is this relationship which makes the book so special. When Cyril brings home Andrea his wife to be, she immediately takes against the children, her jealousy and rage permeate the house, poison the atmosphere and when she comes to move in she arrives with two daughters that Maeve and Danny had no idea to expect. Why didn't Andrea mention at any point that she had two small daughters? Why has Cyril chosen such an unsuitable person to marry? Why is Andrea so incredibly spiteful to these perfectly pleasant children? The story unravels these mysteries and the stories of all of the characters.
I loved these people, I became incredibly caught up in their lives, this is the gift Ann Patchett passes to her readers, an involvement in their stories and a deep feeling of attachment for these people, some of whom are difficult and prickly, but as you unravel the complex web you come to understand their struggles and trials.
This is sitting right up there with my top books of the year. I'm off to buy myself a paper copy because this is a book to keep and to go back to. And I'm sure on the next reading I'll have a little sob in the same place that I did this first reading. Sigh. Lovely. Sigh.