The Dutch House is another of Ann Patchett’s lifetime novels, following Danny Conroy from childhood to adulthood. The main event happens early on – Danny’s father remarries and then dies, and step-mother Andrea ejects Danny and sister Maeve from their spectacular family home. The plot line may appear a fairy tale, but the realism of the novel prevents any sense of cliche.
The Dutch House – named for the origins of its original occupants – is a character in itself, a source of obsession for Maeve and to a lesser extent Danny as they lose their inheritance and ties to their father through Andrea’s selfishness. Danny and Maeve are both beautifully drawn characters with a close bond – the novel’s timeline travels back and forward but finds the siblings consistently in the same place, sitting in the car outside their old home and talking. The excellent dialogue is one of the standout features of the novel. Danny and Maeve’s closeness grates against Danny’s eventual wife Celeste, and then Danny feels the loss of Maeve’s undivided attention when their mother unexpectedly returns to their lives. But at the heart of the novel is this beautiful and unbreakable sibling relationship. This bond survives despite the unwillingness of Danny to follow Maeve’s plan to drain the educational fund of Andrea’s daughters through an expensive medical degree, and Maeve’s stubborn self-reliance that sees her health issues exacerbated.
Comparing this to Patchett’s earlier novel Commonwealth, I found The Dutch House more of a compelling story and tighter in terms of its focus on the main characters.