Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

44318414Verdict: Very much not my type of book.

My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by Bloomsbury, 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

“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.”

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son, Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. the two wealthy siblings are thrown back escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, ‘The Dutch House’ is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives , they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

“The Dutch House” is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love, and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are. Filled with suspense, you may listen to it quickly to find out what happens, but what happens to Danny and Maeve will stay
with you for a very long time.

I knew fairly early into this book that I was not the right reader for it. That I finished it has more to do with the format in which I consumed it (the audiobook is narrated by Tom Hanks) than with any hope I had that it would get better. To be fair, there were parts in the middle that worked better for me – but overall, this is just not my type of book at all. It has been described as a modern fairy tale and that is true only in the worst sense: the story is neither magical nor lyrical but the characters are all as flat as the characters in Grimm’s fairy tales – they are Patchett’s puppet’s moving the story along, not always in ways which made sense to me.

To illustrate why I am not the right reader, here a few things I dislike in books, in no particular order: family sagas (check), historical fiction (check), evil step parents (check), flat characters (check), undeveloped female characters (check), incredibly detailed narration (check), people being treated unfairly (check), women hating women for no good reason (check), horrible parents (check and check). The structure could have worked for me as it jumps back and forth in time, which is something I often enjoy, but the storyline mostly just bored me. The rambling nature of the narrative worked best for me when there were the smallest emotional stakes: when Danny talks about his education or his real estate dabbling. Whenever the stakes were higher, I became increasingly frustrated. Part of that has to do with Danny being an omnipotent narrator while still being only in his own head, part has to do with how one-note these characters all were. For other people, this book has worked brilliantly (and I can kind of see why if I squint and look at this sideways), for me this was a frustrating slog following a character I found boring and self-involved.

Content warning: Death of a loved one, heart attack, abandonement, Alzheimer’s Disease

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. Actress by Anne Enright (review)
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (review)
  3. Weather by Jenny Offill (review)
  4. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review)
  5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Not planning on reading: The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

27 thoughts on “Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

    1. I do think this was just perfectly done to annoy me – if you like Patchett, you are likely to like this as well! The reviews (other than mine) are SO positive.


  1. Sorry to hear this didn’t work for you! I’m actually starting this now and weirdly enough, I feel it’ll turn out to be my type of book—but then, I love family sagas, historical fiction, and fairy tales, so there are those things going for me. I haven’t reached the other horrible parts you’ve mentioned, so thank you for the heads up. Hope your next one will be better! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hated the evil-step parent aspect of this book as well! I get that it was “Danny’s story” but ughhh. I would have loved at least a little bit of nuance to Andrea’s character (and Celeste’s character too for that matter!). Glad that the audiobook format made this a little bit more bearable haha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean, to be completely fair, this was just custom-made to aggrevate me. I knew even while reading it that other people would have a completely different reaction to it.


  3. I’m a huge Patchett fan but this is not her best. She’s actually quite a versatile writer, so for something completely different, I’d recommend State of Wonder or The Magician’s Assistant.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, so sorry to see this was such a flop for you. And after you had such a good run of ratings with the first titles you picked up! I don’t mind family sagas or historical fiction as a rule, so am hoping to get on with this one a bit better, but the characters do not sound appealing at all, so we shall see. I hope you have better luck with your next longlist read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just got more and more frustrated, the longer I read the book. I think my rating was ultimately a bit harsh because it’s not super bad (I think it’s objectively a fine enough book).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just finished this one a couple of days ago and ended up feeling similarly in the second half. It started well enough for me but left me increasingly disappointed later on. I liked the writing at the sentence level and thus ended up with a higher rating (a 3) but I can absolutely see where you’re coming from now.


  5. This sounds… not good. I think I might end up feeling the same way about it, since the things that you mentioned will for sure annoy me too. I have hard enough time with historical fiction, but if the characters are flat as well, that might be cause for me to not finish this one at all. But we’ll see!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with you regarding this book. Your assessment is very fair. The narrative was dull, the characters – boring – and the book did not work for me at all – and I love historical fiction generally. I gave this book a rating higher than yours but that was solely because of the language used. The Dutch House was probably my biggest book disappointment of the decade.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sorry this also didn’t work for you! I thought I would be in the minority with my distaste but apparently more people than I realized didn’t enjoy this book at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. omg completely agree!! i just couldnt get behind the premise of this book — like im sorry but i cant sympathize with people who wallow in self pity because they got kicked out of their mansion lol. also YES to the evil step parents, i felt like the step mom’s (i cant remember her name) entire persinality was just Evil Gold Digging Woman, which is a sexist stereotype but also just lazy writing???

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t even mind the premise so much – but wow it never transcended the whole “rich people’s problems” vibe of it. The Evil Stepmum was what killed any sympathy I felt towards this book. I did not find her believable in the least. And then Patchett did pretty much the same “hating another woman for no reason” thing AGAIN with Maeve and whatshisname’s wife. That was when I ultimately completely lost patience with this book.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. absolutely agree!! i was so confused with maeve and the wife hating each other too, i was like did miss something??? how did this happen?? turns out that no it was just bad writing lol. and the main characters wife had zero personality too she was just there to be The Wife


  8. Oooh boy. I finally just got the ebook from my library, but reading your review makes me hesitant because I hate most of those things too 😂Going to try it out and see how it goes though.

    Liked by 1 person

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