“We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it.”
Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House is a book about family, love, and nostalgia. The story follows two siblings, Maeve and Danny Conroy, who have a very close relationship partly due to the fact that their mother left home when they were only 10 and 3 years old. Danny Conroy narrates the novel, and, like memory, Danny’s narrative jumps around in time. Unfortunately, he must largely rely on his older sister, Maeve, to teach him family history, undo his tricks of memory, and teach him about the home they were raised in, the Dutch House.
The Dutch House is a grand 1922 mansion outside Philadelphia that their father, Cyril, bought as a surprise for his wife when Maeve was 5. Yet, this show of love does not keep Cyril and his wife, Elna, together. Elna instead flees to India to devote herself to the poor, meanwhile, her children are left to suffer and fend for themselves back at home. Andrea, a woman 18 years younger than Cyril, loves the decadent home and manipulates her way into the family’s life, becoming Maeve and Danny’s stepmother and marking the end of their childhoods.
This wicked stepmother and sibling story is very reminiscent of fairy tales like Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel. Yet, the story is not cheesy and filled with common stereotypes like many fairy tales employ. It is not a story of stepmother versus children but the story of the struggle between memory and reflection as one grows up. The Dutch House is filled with intimate moments that make the novel deeply moving for the readers. If you are searching for a new book to read, I cannot recommend this beautifully written book enough. Patchett’s characters and storyline draw her readers in and make them feel every one of their emotions deeply.
Review by Charlotte, Teen Reader