The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

A sprawling story of a sibling’s relationship. Told over the course of five decades and through a lens of their attachment to each other, but even more the house they lived in as children. It is a fairy tale with an evil stepmother and Hansel and Gretel at its core. But it is also a story about how not being able to let go of the past thwarts the future. 

My mum recommended this book to me, saying it is one of those where not much happens, but one she could not put down. I was missing a book like this for a while now. One to seduce me with its atmosphere, and make me live in the world it creates. 

The story is told by Danny, the young cherished brother of Maeve. They are the children of a real estate magnate, who as soon as he made his first real money bought his dream Dutch House. It was meant as a surprise for his beloved wife, but it became the undoing of everything he loved. At the cusp of adulthood, Maeve and Danny are banished from the house by an evil stepmother, a true fairy tale touch.

The siblings rally together, as they are thrown into poverty. But they never forget the house. Their life revolves around sticking together and looking at the house from afar. Maeve goes as far as to force Danny to study medicine in order to bleed the education trust fund their father left them dry. And Danny succumbs, years of his life spent on following Meave’s little revenge. 

With his education completed, Danny is finally free to pursue his real dream, which is to become a real estate whizz, like his father was before. Unfortunately, his dreams now do not align with the expectations of his wife. He does it nonetheless, but there is this sense that he is always falling short of the expectations others set for him.

Maeve’s life is one of a loner, she obsessively remembers the house and her mother, who abandoned them as children. Danny was too little to remember her, but for Maeve, the house and memories of the mother become the double axis of her life. 

It is true that not much really happens in the book, just life happens. There aren’t many dramatic events, but just like every one of us Danny and Maeve try to pinpoint the key events of their lives. Those moments that initially are insignificant, but in perspective have made us who we are. It is a book about the past that always seeps into the future, about the fact that as free as we may feel we are a product of our lives and experiences. 

I only wished we’ve been able to spend more time in the Dutch House, a longing similar to the one the siblings feel. The way Patchett describes the house is enchanting but also a tad creepy. It is one of those houses with a personality larger than its inhabitants. But also shows how a house is turned into a home by people who live in it. 

While it may not be a life-changing book it is one that reels you in with its atmosphere, observations, and devotion to life itself. I really enjoyed my experience in the Dutch House.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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