If there was a ‘God of Books’, many of us would pray for that most precious of all things; the great book run. That dreamlike period of time, during which each book you read is a little better than the last, or if not better, then equally as good and just of a different type. I am hoping that I find myself in such a period of time currently, although I’m worried that even by writing this, I may spoil my luck. Last week I devoured Daisy Jones & The Six and this week I have been treated to The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Might I be so lucky as to have this continue?
I have read a few of Patchett’s books through the years and she’s a great writer, but most likely you don’t need me to tell you that. Bel Canto, is perhaps one of the more memorable books that I’ve enjoyed in the last ten years and certainly a novel that I would recommend reading. This being said, she’s not really a writer that I ever remember to look out for and had one of my friends not mentioned The Dutch House directly to me, I fear it may have totally passed me by and that would have been a terrible shame.
When one of my kids asked me what this book was about, I hesitated to say. If you tell a child it’s about a house, or family relationships then it’s like sounding the death knell on not only the book, but the conversation too and yet, The Dutch House is about both these things. The house provides the framework for a story about family, love and the profound damage we can do to each other.
Cyril Conroy buys The Dutch House for his wife as a gift. He has started to make some money through real estate and to him, the house is the most beautiful property he has ever seen. Certain that she will love it, they move in and he finds it has almost the opposite effect. His wife becomes increasingly distant, until at last she leaves him and their young children, Maeve and Danny. Enter Andrea, a woman more in love with the house than she is with Cyril. They marry and shortly thereafter things begin to shift, until such time as Maeve and Danny are banished completely.
The story has an odd fairytale quality to it, probably because of the presence of an evil stepmother, in the form of Andrea. The relationship between Maeve and Danny is the cornerstone of the novel and it’s so wonderfully created that, as a reader, you can’t stop analyzing it. Maeve is protective of Danny to a fault, whilst he is unable to make the leap he needs to find real happiness. The siblings aren’t vengeful, but rather trapped by their past and unable to move forward, never quite becoming the people they should be.
If you want a good family drama to read this summer, then this might just be it. It’s certainly not beach fodder, but rather brilliantly written modern fiction, that will have you analyzing the traps you have built for yourself throughout the course of your life. I loved it.