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October 1, 2020

The Dutch House

 



Fiction
2019 HarperAudio
Read by Tom Hanks
Finished on September 29, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

The Dutch House is the second book by Ann Patchett that I have read this year. In July, I read State of Wonder, which I thought was outstanding. As with State of Wonder, I was quickly drawn into the narrative, eager to see where the story would lead as I came to know the characters. As the final pages drew near, I realized that there would be no big surprise or twists of fate. This is not an action-packed novel, but rather a quiet character study, very much like Patchett's earlier work, Bel Cantowhich is another favorite of mine. We come to know the characters through their conversations, but there is little in the way of action to propel the narrative, just lives lived, one generation not really any different than the previous: birth, school, marriage, divorce, remarriage, work, and ultimately, death. 

Patchett's novel is comprised of numerous themes including love, betrayal, abandonment, jealousy, obsession, revenge, and forgiveness. Sounds a bit bleak, doesn't it? And yet, it isn't. I enjoyed the story (and even felt sympathetic toward Danny and Maeve), never once feeling the urge to quit reading.

On abandonment:
To grow up with a mother who had run off to India, never to be heard from again, that was one thing--there was closure in that, its own kind of death. But to find out she was fifteen stops away on the Number One train to Canal and had failed to be in touch was barbaric. Whatever romantic notions I might have harbored, whatever excuses or allowances my heart had ever made on her behalf, blew out like a match.

I've never done a read/listen combo, but after hearing great things about the audiobook, which is narrated by Tom Hanks, I knew I wanted to listen rather than read the book. As it turned out, I also wound up with a print copy, so I decided to listen on my walks and read at night. It was the best of both worlds; I was able to mark a few passages in the book and have Hanks entertain me while I walked. Speaking of Hanks, he is a great audiobook reader! I appreciated that other than softening his tone for the women, he didn't try to alter his voice between characters; no dreaded high-pitched female voices, which is so annoying. Hank's pacing was perfect and he was able to convey feelings with authentic emotion, whether it be humor, surprise, anger or sadness. I'm not sure whether Hanks became Danny or Danny became Hanks, but his voice rings true. If he (Hanks) ever wants to give up his day job, I would gladly listen to more audiobooks narrated by him!

As I began writing this review, my initial reaction was that while I enjoyed reading The Dutch House, it wasn't an outstanding book. Danny and Maeve are well-developed characters, but neither is terribly likeable. I was entertained, but the ending fell short of my expectations. The novel was selected by my book group for our October discussion, so once I finished, I dove into the internet and started reading reviews and author interviews. I still feel that the ending was too neat and tidy, but having done said literary research, I gained a greater appreciation for Patchett's work. The Dutch House is a sad book about a broken family, but in the hands of this accomplished writer, it's one that I couldn't put down and didn't want to end. I'm looking forward to my book group meeting and I have a feeling there will be quite a bit to discuss and analyze.

Highly recommend!

18 comments:

  1. The fact that Tom Hanks narrates the audiobook has me sold!

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  2. I loved it and I thought the ending was perfect but I also thought it was very Gatsby like at the end. The glittering party, the celebrity of it all, and it's witnessed from a chair in the backyard. Outside, looking in. Very much like how the kids grew up, always looking at that house, their home, from the outside. I read it on my Kindle but I do like to own copies of books I've loved and another blogger had a beautiful copy from Waterstones. I may get it for myself for Christmas.

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    1. Ti, I can see the Gatsbyesque connection! I agree that this is one to own. I love the cover art, which was created for Patchett by a friend (Noah Saterstrom).

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  3. I bet there will be a lot to talk about with your group. And sometimes I've found that a book that I liked, but didn't love, ends up with some of the best discussion. I always feel like I learn something. Nice to hear that Tom Hanks can narrate well. I'm not surprised.

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    1. Kay, it should be a great discussion! As time passes, I find that I enjoyed the book more so than I thought when I first finished.

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  4. I think listening to it as an audiobook read by Tom Hanks was a big part of the charm of this book for me. The family was sad, and that's always a difficult sort of story to read for me. I liked how Patchett took a simple theme and made a complex story.

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    1. Deb, listening to Tom Hanks read the story was a big plus, but I also read the print edition and enjoyed it, as well. It's one I think I'll reread later on down the road.

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  5. Glad you enjoyed this - me too. I loved Tom Hanks' performance.

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    1. Diane, it wasn't as good as Bel Canto or State of Wonder, but it was very good! Hanks was outstanding!

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  6. Adding this one to my list...although I'm very reluctant to read anything sad right now. Sigh.

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    1. Laurel, it's a sad tale, but it's not at all heartbreaking. I do understand your reluctance, though. Hope all is well in FL with you two.

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  7. I really liked State of Wonder ... but I liked The Dutch House just okay. The mother and stepmom were pretty bad in it as I recall (which made me feel blech) ... but I liked the big house & estate aspect of it... I wish Danny & Maeve could have stayed there longer -- that part was great. here are more of my thoughts at: https://www.thecuecard.com/books/closing-out-the-year/

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    1. Susan, wasn't State of Wonder marvelous? Have you read Bel Canto? I know some readers didn't care for it, but I thought it was excellent.

      Ah, the mother and stepmother in this book were both annoying on so many levels. Patchett said she wanted to write a book about the kind of stepmother she didn't want to be. I think she nailed it! Thanks for the link to your thoughts. Heading over there now.

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  8. I very much enjoyed that book. It was my introduction to Patchett.

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    1. Tina, if you haven't gone on to read more by Patchett, I highly recommend State of Wonder and Bel Canto. They are both excellent. Have a good week!

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  9. I have this one on my shelf but you've made me curious about the audiobook. When I finally get a chance to pick it up maybe I'll do the same and mix in the audio. Great review and so glad to hear you enjoyed this one!

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    1. Iliana, I think a read/listen combo is a great way to go with this particular book. Hanks made it so engaging!

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