The Dutch House: An Epic Family Tale Told In Intimate Detail

How often do you come across a writer who really makes you stop, take a deep inhale as your heart begins to beat again. Ann Patchett and her triumphant The Dutch House did this to me. 

Ann Patchett is an author that I have known of, whose books I have picked up, made a note to read and promptly did not. We all have these authors I am sure. How Patchett became that author for me I do not know having finally re-emerged from the world she has crafted. 

This is a story of family and of longing. It is a love story to the bonds between siblings. Childhood trauma and its devastating long term effects. It is a tale of how our families shape us. 

Told over five decades the story is narrated by Danny, whose father purchased the infamous “Dutch House” – a decision which saw his first marriage shatter. Danny and his sister Mauve are raised in this architectural marvel, but upon the death of their father the siblings are thrown out of their home by his new wife.  

From this point the novel charts Danny’s journey through medical school and Mauve’s decision to dwell in her hometown. Each is haunted by the ghost of the Dutch House. 

Somehow throughout Patchett manages to blend together the beautiful banality of the everyday with moments of profound realisation. As with those life changing or defining moments time is frozen as small details – the flicking away of a finished cigarette or the bobbles on an old green jumper. As a reader you are right there with the characters, to the extent that on finishing a chapter you find yourself looking around, blinking and in an unfamiliar environment – in your home or garden rather than 1970s Pennsylvania. 

Of course the story is captivating, the characters are beautifully drawn and the dialogue realistic. Familial love wins out over traumatic history. There is just so much I could delve into but I won’t because I wouldn’t want to ruin your enjoyment of this book (because you really really must read this book). 

The love between Danny and Mauve will warm you. Patchett describes, without really saying it, the depth of love between siblings. I could see it in every one of Mauve’s actions – because I know I would have done it all for my own brother. I want to make him read this book so I can say “see, this is how much I love you”. Every big sister, especially those like me with a frankly wonderful younger brother, will read this and feel the same way. 

The Dutch House itself feels like a minor character – a memory or a ghost which Danny and Mauve ruminate and obsess over. There are moments when you forget that it is in fact just a house, an inanimate object. It is in the novel’s final pages that the house swells and sweeps up the characters and comes into its own. I won’t say any more than that.   

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