Book Review: The Dutch House

This week, in continuing to read the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist, I read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. This novel centers around two siblings, Danny and Maeve, who grow up in a beautiful estate in suburban Pennsylvania. When Danny is 15, the siblings are forced to abandon the Dutch House, leaving them with a trust for Danny’s education, memories of their childhood home, and an unbreakable bond with each other. The Dutch House shows how the siblings’ experiences in their childhood home shape the people they become as adults, and the decisions they make over the course of their lives.

The book: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3 stars out of 5

I have conflicting opinions about The Dutch House. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Danny reminiscing about his life experiences, especially his shared experiences with his sister Maeve. A lot of Danny’s reminiscing is non-linear, which makes it realistic (who really recounts their entire life history in chronological order?), but a bit hard to follow at first. I also thought that some of Danny’s memories were told boringly – certain descriptions and details could have been omitted or at least shortened.

I also have mixed feelings about The Dutch House‘s main character. Danny was sometimes a frustrating narrator, because he was so oblivious to and disconnected from the world around him. I can’t decide if this was a weakness of the writing, or an intentional reflection on Danny’s emotional stuntedness and the limitations of his memory. Still, Danny’s obliviously selfish behavior was sometimes difficult to read.

Also, because Danny was the narrator, the other characters in the novel could never be well-developed enough. The only deep relationship Danny has is with his sister, Maeve, and even then he often fails to see things about her. I would have loved to see more of Maeve’s perspective, but because Danny is so oblivious that is impossible. I also would have loved to understand the character of Danny’s step-mother, Andrea, better – she is portrayed very one-dimensionally.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Dutch House. Although the main character is frustrating, the novel is very character-driven (which I almost always enjoy). And the novel left a lot for the reader to think about, like: would I characterize Danny as a good person or not? How would the story have been different from Maeve’s perspective? Do “saint-like” people get a pass on being bad parents? The Dutch House clearly raised some interesting issues, and has stuck with me a lot in the 36 hours since finishing it. I just wish that the narrator had been even slightly less oblivious – his one-dimensional view of the world resulted in under-developed supporting characters.

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: The Dutch House”

  1. Ugh I think this won’t be exactly my type of book, but your mostly positive review encouraged me! I think I’ll pick up the audiobook, which I’ve been told is narrated by Tom Hanks. Maybe this makes the one-dimensional characters thing less of an issue.

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  2. Great review! I am glad this worked better for you than for me. I listened to the audiobook actually and maybe that was the wrong decision – because audiobooks take so much longer to finish. I thought that Danny let his mother off the hook too much – especially because I really do not agree with the book that she was saint-like (maaaybe if the author hadn’t invoked Mother Teresa of all possible people my reaction would have been different, so I do have biases here).

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    1. Thank you! There were definitely some sections that I sped through (some of Danny’s memories of the past were told so boringly!), so I can see the audiobook being frustrating there. And I agree that Danny let his mother off the hook too easily. I also thought it was kind of messed up that Maeve pressured Danny into having a relationship with her when he wasn’t ready (and more generally, I wished Danny had the depth to realize when Maeve made questionable decisions on his behalf, but he rarely seemed to consider that).

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        1. Yes, that is so valid! I read somewhere that Patchett was trying to portray men who don’t realize that their success is built off the labor of women…but I think that point would be better made with Maeve as the narrator, or in the third person like you said.

          I keep thinking about this book…it’s weird how engaged I was with it because it had a lot of elements that I normally dislike! (flat characters, problematic tropes, missed opportunities to provide commentary on things like gender roles and the invisible labor of women)

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  3. Great review! Out of the longlist, this is the book I’m most excited about. Even with the faults you mention, I’m kind of itching to read it right now! Thank you for that – I’ve missed that feeling!

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  4. Great review! I had many of the same impressions with this book, my biggest struggle with it also coming down to the ways Danny doesn’t quite satisfy as narrator. But I also enjoyed reading it (if only for Patchett’s prose) and am glad to see you enjoyed it at least a little and were left with some points to consider after closing the novel- always a good result!

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