Book Review: The Dutch House - Ann Patchett

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Title: The Dutch House
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (24 September 2019)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Price: Rs. 385 on Amazon
Pages: 352

For a brief while on Social Media, this is the only book I saw and heard about. Everyone was praising this book and it even made to the shortlist of the best books of 2019 on Goodreads under the Historical Fiction genre. I was obviously intrigued, but wary too. I usually don't like over-hyped books and I prefer to make my own decision about it. Then, Nabanita included this book in her top 15 reads of the year and I was sold. Along with Shalini, she is another blogger whose reviews I would trust blindly. I have a penchant for historical fiction and I just had to cave in. I bought this book in November last year, but did not read it immediately. This was the first book that I read in 2020.

As the title suggests, the story is all about the Dutch House and the people who live/lived in it. It is called the Dutch House by locals because of the provenance of its original owners, the Van-Hoebeeks, rather than its architectural style. It appears to float several inches above the hill it sits on and has huge glass windows, so much that you can see through the house. The house is indeed a piece of art with delft mantels, marble flooring, a ballroom and a gilt ceiling. The house is decorated with silk chairs, Chinese lamps, tapestry ottomans and huge oil paintings of the original owners, the Van-Hoebeeks. The Van-Hoebeeks were wealthy people who made a fortune in the tobacco industry. Later when they went bankrupt, the house was bought by Cyril Conroy, a self-made real estate mogul for his family that comprises of his wife Elna, daughter Maeve, son Danny and three helps, Fluffy, Sandy and Jocelyn.

Elna dislikes the house and finds it too big for their basic comforts. Soon, she leaves the house and her family and is presumed dead. Maeve and Danny are raised by their father with ample assistance from the helps. When Cyril brings home a window, Andrea, Maeve and Danny are taken by surprise and dislike her almost immediately. Andrea and her two young daughters become a constant presence in the house and Cyril ends up marrying Andrea soon after. Maeve and Danny are not too fond of their step-mother, but take a liking to their step-sisters, Norma and Bright. When Cyril dies of a heart-attack, Maeve and Danny rely on each other for comfort and support. Like all evil step-mothers, Andrea soon throws them out of the house and refuses to part with her late husband's fortune. The only thing that she agrees to provide for them is a trust fund, just for their education.

Thus, Maeve and Danny leave the Dutch house. Maeve is already working and has a small apartment, so Danny moves in with her. Danny takes up medicine, thanks to the coaxing of Maeve to fully utilize the educational trust fund. His real interest is in real-estate, just like his dad. Will he be able to achieve his dreams? Will Maeve and Danny continue to be close as they grow up? What happens to their individual lives? Most importantly, will they set foot in the Dutch house again?

I thought that this book had some element of mystery or thrill in it, before I started reading it. But, it just turned out to be the story of a house. And honestly, that is exactly what works for this book. There is nothing great about the story and it most definitely is not unheard of, but it still makes you stay glued to it. I was so vested in the intricate and beautiful relationship between the siblings Maeve and Danny. Decades pass and they stand by each other like rocks. The writing is beautiful and easy to read. The story flows seamlessly from page to page from the past to the present. With just a handful of characters, each character adds something to the story and does complete justice to it. You can imagine all of them in your head, like a big happy family. But, it is the siblings who steal the show. Narrated by Danny and spanning across five decades, the story talks about their lives and their obsession with the Dutch house. So much that even after being exiled from the house, they visit as often as they can and watch it from a distance. Yes, it is like stalking, but of a house. That's the emotion they hold towards it. That's the same emotion the reader feels.

I say it again. There is nothing great about this book. This is the story of the house and the people who live/lived in it. This is exactly what is so good about the story and the characters. The emotions are raw, believable and honest. As is the writing. I'd give this book a five stars, but I found quite some spelling issues in the book and misplaced words. They put me off lightly. I'll not flaw the story otherwise.


Verdict: A very clich├ęd concept, but a story like none other. Read it now.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

I read this book as part of the #TBRChallenge2020 for prompt 6 - A book picked up after reading a favorable review on a book blogger's site or a recommendation from a book obsessed friend/relative.

10 comments:

  1. That sounds really interesting!

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  2. Hmmm...sounds like an okay book to me. I haven't read historical fiction in years, I think. Let's see if I get this book at my bookshop. Might give it a read.

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    1. Give it a shot, Shilpa. The story is way too beautiful.

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  3. I read some historical fiction in 2018 and liked it a lot. This one looks like a good read and then you are recommending it; so I am putting it down on my TBR though I dont know when I will get to it :-)

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    1. HF is turning out to be one of my favorite genres. I hope you get to read this one this year.

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  4. I haven't read much historical fiction, most of my historical readings have been non fiction. But after your review - adding this book to my TBR.

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    1. Read this Shantala, you will not regret it.

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  5. Sometimes a story becomes special because of the way it is told. This one seems a little like that. Also, I love relationship based stories. Putting it on myTBR.

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    1. This was such a delight in terms of the way it handled relationships. You will like it, I think.

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