The Dutch House by Ann Patchett was recommended to me by one of my favourite podcasts, so I thought I’d give it a try, as only my second book of lockdown. I am so glad I did, as it is absolutely fantastic and I couldn’t put it down.
This is the story of two siblings, their parents, step-mother and a very unusual house. The Dutch House is so-called because it was built in the 1920s by a Dutch couple the VanHoebeek’s, and it stands on a now suburban street outside Philadelphia. It is incredible house, with stunning ceilings, a ballroom on the third floor and windows that mean you can see straight through the ground floor, which made me think of the Frank Lloyd Wright house Graycliff, which I visited a few years ago (see my photo). It is where Danny, the protagonist, his sister Maeve and their father live, with the help of a couple of faithful servants, the VanHoebeek’s having gone bankrupt and their father having bought the house on a whim.
All is well, until Andrea their stepmother-to-be turns up. She has two girls of her own, and they all move into the Dutch House after Maeve and Danny’s father marry. Maeve and Danny take the girl’s under their wing, but are soon feeling like second-class citizens in their own home. Danny is then left at home when Maeve goes off to University and she soon stops coming home altogether, when Andrea makes it clear that she is not welcome and her father fails to intervene. He is a financially successful real-estate baron, who has somehow lost his first wife, is emotionally distant from his children, seems to have stumbled into marrying an unsuitable woman and then has the temerity to die leaving his children homeless and penniless.
The story follows Danny and Maeve as they cope with a very different reality after their father’s death, often finding themselves sat in Maeve’s car outside the Dutch House, reminiscing about times past. There are some fantastic twists and turns as they grow older and as characters re-appear after years of absence. Danny and Maeve are both eventually forced to question where their loyalties lie.
This is such an intriguing, well-written and enjoyable book. I was left keen to read more by Ann Patchett.