• Sophia Hadef

The Dutch House, Ann Patchett

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

I just finished The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, published in 2019.

And I have to say that it is a Masterpiece.


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 into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves 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 humour 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.

This book was a great discovery. I read this novel for a book club I joined: Read Together based in Galway. I enjoyed immersing myself in the life of these particular and fascinating characters. There was something special in it that we find in fairy tales. I had the strong impression of reading a modern version of Hansel and Gretel. It's a story about a brother and a sister: Maeve and Danny Conroy living in Elkins Park, a grand estate and impressive place for the whole family. It is the former home of the VanHoebeek, a family who still live there through the portraits and decorations, like ghosts from the past occupying the place along with its new residents. If you like family secrets, life stories with drama and emotions, you will love this book. It is a masterpiece, and quite often, I was thinking, am I reading a classic? Ann Patchett has delicate and profound knowledge of people's hearts and minds, and her writing is playing with words like a glorious dance. She describes so well the human nature, sensitive and so fragile.

"But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we're not seeing it as the people we were, we're seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.”

“We were all so young, you know. We were still our best selves.”

“There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you'd been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you're suspended, knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself. It was an almost unbearably vivid present I found myself in that winter when Maeve drove me to Connecticut in the Oldsmobile.”

This book has to be on your bookshelf.

Here is the Goodreads link.

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