Looking for some historical-fiction that reads like a dark fairytale, with a mix of Cinderella and Paradise Lost, to sweep you off your feet?
The story begins with a house. The year is 1946, and recent real-estate mogul Cyril Conroy has decided to buy a surprise for his down-to-earth wife. And what better gift than the purchase of a three-story glass-fronted home with a third-story ballroom, complete with staff and Delft mantels. It’s the beginning of the end of happy unity for the Conroy family.
Patchett’s eighth novel The Dutch House plays a lot with the theme of how a house can become a home for some, a place we feel so deeply anchored to that we cannot help but be drawn back, again and again, while that same house can feel like a burden to others, an object incongruous with our personalities from which we need to escape to become ourselves again. The Dutch House explores all this within one family, across divorces, and multiple generations, in a profoundly moving and very addictive narrative.
I’ve been on a historical fiction binge lately and reading The Dutch House felt like a gift. It could be that I wasn’t expecting another five-star read, or that I was surprised to be taken in so wholly by siblings Danny and Maeve, who find themselves exiled from their childhood home by their stepmother during this story. Following this exile, Maeve spends years finding herself parked across the street from her childhood home. Often in the company of her younger brother Danny who would rather leave the past behind than reminisce obsessively in inflicted hurts.
“’Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer.”
However, all those years spent collecting the rent with his father on Saturday’s and soaking up every spare word his dad had to offer have left Danny as unable to let go of the past, even if his ties are of a less visible nature than Maeve’s.
Danny’s the one who narrates the story, from a first-person viewpoint, seamlessly switching between past and present and guiding the story all the way into the future. Maeve’s portrait graces the cover in the same manner that her character is present in every line of the story. Even when the story is not directly about her. It is Maeve’s fierce determination that resettles the course of Danny’s life after every single person who is actually supposed to look out for him leaves. Maeve is both stalwart protector of her brother and beacon, unflinching in her decisions, and she ties the narrative together from start to finish.
The story the Conroy siblings share is one of heartbreak and beauty and fierce determination and feels so real because tragedies like the ones they experience happen to millions of people every day, but so do bonds of love (like theirs) exist that triumph over those tragedies.
Whether you love historical fiction or are new to the genre and interested in dipping in your toes, The Dutch House is not to be missed.
Book: The Dutch House
Publication Date: September 24th, 2019
Reviewed by: Meredith Mara