It is always a joy to stumble upon a gorgeous book that also takes your breath away. Publishers have really upped their game when it comes to cover designs and although we should not judge a book by its cover, it is difficult when there are so many beautiful books staring at us from the bookshelves. One such book is The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; a gem of a book that is stunning to look at and stunning to read.
The Dutch House follows a family for the span of five decades. We see the main characters, Danny and Maeve, as children and we slowly follow them and their lives up to their late fifties. The core of Ann Patchett’s latest novel is about families and the way they function. But this seemingly simple topic spreads and the book explores so much more from the mistakes we make and chances we miss on a daily basis to the way good deeds always end up hurting someone despite their best intentions.
Danny and Maeve are highly likable but they are not extraordinary, which may be why we end up sympathising so much with them. As children their family moves to the so called Dutch House and from there their lives seem to slowly unravel leading them through years full of mistakes, regret and yes, happiness. The Dutch House becomes a character on its own; everyone is drawn to it because of its beauty, because of what it means to people. We, the spectators, see it standing there for five decades waiting for another character to enter it so that it may influence their lives as well. Danny and Maeve’s mother leaves them when they are young for she cannot stand the grandeur of the house, deciding to dedicate her life on helping the less fortunate; yet, another theme that Pratchett comes back to in the end. We see the lives of Danny and Maeve whilst they live only with their distant and cold father.
And then we, together with the Dutch House, become witnesses to how life can unravel when a step-parent comes into the picture. Andrea, the step-mother, marries for money whilst the father of Danny and Maeve marries for comfort. A lot happens in the book; we see the death of the father, we witness the consequences and their loss of the Dutch House, we are there when Danny marries and we are also part of the reunion between the two children-no-more and their mother. The book spans through so many years and we, the readers, get really invested in the lives of these two characters as well as the array of people we meet through Danny and Maeve. The book is a slice-of-life and it would not have worked if it was written just by anyone. It was Ann Patchett’s prose writing that makes it so poignant and brilliant.
Five decades is a long time to follow and write about but Patchett makes it realistic. The story pace is not too rushed and the time jumps are easy to read. It may sound simple but it takes a real talent to make fifty years flow naturally without making the reader feel rushed. There is also the language. I know that we read for the story in most cases but The Dutch House is a celebration of language. Ann Patchett’s prose flows and meanders in such an elegant way making it a real joy to read. And then there is the humanity of the book. We grow and thrive, we grieve and die with these characters who try to live the best way they can. We see how every decision they make is influenced by their past and by the Dutch House and we slowly realise that yes, our past shapes us and our future, and we are all sometimes going around in a circle doing our best; this is what it is to be human. However, Ann Patchett manages to take this simple idea and take our breath away with the story she has to tell, and I strongly encourage you all get yourself a copy of this book.
The Dutch House is available now, published by Bloomsbury