The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Read: 27 April - 3 May 2020
Release year: 2019
This book initially caught my intention because I saw it on some best seller lists. I was immediately attracted by the beautiful cover of the book and I was also curious about the ‘Dutch’ part of the title (being Dutch myself). It turns out this book does not have to do so much with my birth country, but I loved it regardless. This novel also brought back some memories about the difficult relationship I had with my own father, which made me identify with the main characters immediately.
The Dutch House is a story about a family that moves into 'the Dutch House’ in the suburbs of Philadelphia - Cyril and Elna, and their children Danny and Maeve. The house is actually named this way because the former owners, the Van Hoebeek family, were Dutch. Danny narrates the story, but older sister Maeve may well be the main character of the book. Mother Elna abandons the family when the children are still at a young age and they are then raised by their father Cyril and the staff of the house. Cyril ends up marrying a mother of two who is actually more in love with the house than with him. Danny and Maeve's new stepmother does not care for them at all and after the sudden death of their father she even kicks them out of the house and takes control of Cyril's business. Danny and Maeve are now left to take care of each other, without any parents and without any money.
The backstory in this book reminded me a lot of my own relationship with my father. After my parents divorced my father also ended up in a serious relationship with someone who already had children from a previous marriage. My relationship with him became difficult, mostly due to the presence of my stepmother, and I lost contact with him in the four years leading up to his passing in 2009. Just like Danny and Maeve, I was left without any of my father's possessions that reminded me of him. It was kind of crazy to find so many similarities in this book to my own life, but in the end it made me appreciate this book even more.
“There would never been an end to all the things I wished I'd asked my father.”
As I already mentioned, Danny is the narrator of the story, but I did not really like him as he is kind of naive, selfish and basically just annoying. After finishing the book I learned that Ann Patchett made Danny the narrator on purpose, as she felt that in this way it would become more obvious how amazing Maeve is as he absolutely adores her. Apparently, Patchett also planned on naming the book Maeve before settling on The Dutch House. The amazing book cover is a recreation of a fictional painting in the book of a young Maeve. She is actually far from perfect, but somehow she is just so damn cool.
“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.”