Review Blog

Sep 25 2019

The Dutch house by Ann Patchett

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Bloomsbury, 2019. ISBN: 9781526614964.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Themes: Family, Love, Betrayal, Loss, Revenge. This is a subtle, highly original story of loss and betrayal told through the eyes of two children, Danny and his older sister Maeve, whose lives have always centred around the exoticly beautiful Dutch house and what it has meant to their family. Their father, an astute real estate businessman, proudly brought his young family to install them in its luxuriousness, not comprehending the impact it would have on the young wife he coaxed away from the devotion and servitude of a convent. The rift it causes in the family leads to desertion by the person they love most.
Then along comes Andrea, a woman who has a way of getting what she wants - and she wants the Dutch house. Danny reflects that 'I'll always believe that Andrea's face fell for an instant when she looked at Maeve and me' for the two children were not part of her picture of the future. What follows is a story of betrayal, obsession and vengeance; but also a story of devotion, the devotion of a sister to a brother who cannot remember the love of his mother.
The thing I find most interesting about The Dutch house is the depiction of the way that children, despite being alienated from a parent, often develop exactly those same characteristics that cause the distance between them, thus Danny becomes as aloof and unaffectionate as his father, a lack of attachment that sees him also separating from his wife in the end.
The stepmother figure is also not the stereotypical evil stepmother, her evil is not of cruelty but of not caring, a lack of empathy. As Danny is aware, the faults are not all one-sided.
One might wonder how this sad story of entangled lives might end - and surprisingly the ending is a delight, a revelation of warmth and compassion that suggests that with the turn of generations, people might come to better understanding and love. This is a richly rewarding story providing insight into family relationships, love and loss. I highly recommend it to readers who like stories to provide psychological depth and development of character, and lots to think about afterwards.
Helen Eddy

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