The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An exquisite piece of literary fiction.It's the story of Maeve Conroy as told by her younger brother Danny and it's a totally compelling read. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: September 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1526614964

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When we first meet Danny and his elder sister, Maeve Conroy, they're both living at The Dutch House with their parents and under the gaze of the portraits of the former owners whose oil paintings still hang on the walls. It's a strange family dynamic: Cyril Conroy is distant and the closest Danny seems to come to him is when he goes out with him on a Saturday collecting rents from properties the family owns. Elna Conroy is loving, but absent increasingly often until the point comes when the children are told that she will not be returning. In other circumstances this might have affected Maeve and Danny deeply, but their primary relationship is with each other. It's a bond which only death will break.

Then Cyril Conroy brings Andrea to the Dutch House and another dysfunctional relationship is brought into the family. There doesn't seem to be any great affection there and Maeve and Danny speculate that their father eventually married Andrea because he didn't know how to get her to leave the house, Andrea brought two children with her and we see her less-than-subtle manoeuvring to ensure that Norma and Bright take precedence - and Maeve's retaliations to make certain that Danny gets the lion's share of the educational funds available. The result of this is that Danny qualifies as a doctor despite the fact that his heart is in residential development. Maeve sums up the relationship between the siblings and their father when they have an almost-illicit meal on their own with him as if we had once been a unit instead of just a circumstance.

Andrea's defining move was to force Maeve and Danny to leave the Dutch House. In the decades which followed they would revisit the property regularly, but only to sit outside in Maeve's car, speculating what was going on inside and remembering the times they had spent there. Do you think it's possible to ever see the past as it actually was? Danny asked his sister and we never can as we revisit our memories through the lens of what we know now. Of course, the main point of which they both know so little is what happened to their mother: her absence has been a more powerful influence on their lives than any presence they have known.

I'm always nervous of books which are surrounded with as much hype as The Dutch House has attracted, but on this occasion, it is totally justified. It's been called 'the book of the autumn' but I'd go further and say that for me it's the book of the year. No one conveys ageing in quite the way that Ann Patchett has mastered. We follow Danny and Maeve through more than four decades without ever experiencing a disconcerting jump as the years pass. You might occasionally suspect that Maeve is a little domineering, that Danny can be just a bit malleable, but the story is hypnotic and compelling. Reading the book was pure joy and it was hard not to turn back to the beginning and start again when I got to the last page.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If The Dutch House appeals then you might also enjoy A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther.

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