The Dutch House was a last minute purchase. As I was waiting for the cashier to scan my pile of 6 books, I casually picked this one and added to the stack. I’d seen this book making the rounds on the various “bestseller” lists, but I’d rather walk down a dark tunnel than decide my reading choice based on these lists. So what really caught my eye was the author – Ann Patchett.
Years ago I had read Commonwealth. And I still remember the plot, the writing and the emotions that book stirred in me. It was a masterpiece. Patchet’s prolific writing, highlighting each character detail gave me a deeper understanding of how relationships tend to change over a period of time. Commonwealth’s characters are deeply entrenched in my mind, even today after so many years. Through this literary fiction, I was a part of a dysfunctional family struggling to keep it together with way too many step-fathers, step-sisters, step-mothers, step-relatives that our current Indian society can comprehend.
I would give Commonwealth 5 stars!
Sadly, I went in with a 5-star expectation for The Dutch House and I was a little disappointed. Patchett is a master storyteller when it comes to familial relations. Like in Commonwealth, the plot for The Dutch House too is inconsequential. But where this book falls in comparison to its earlier cousin, is the lack of imagination and the repetitiveness.
The Dutch House is centered around an obnoxious, yet beautiful mansion. The conflicting description is courtesy the battle the central characters face that takes up most of the book – love it or hate it, you just can’t escape the house. The story is about a young girl, Maeve and her younger brother, Danny, caught in a messy situation when their father remarries. Having already faced the abandonment of their mother in the past, the loving Conroy home is further torn apart when the farther dies. The mansion is suddenly taken over by the step-mother and her two young daughters. What follows is the classic Cinderella tale where the orphaned kids are asked to vacate the premises as soon as they come of age.
Armed with inherited money to only fund their education, Maeve and Danny are left to make their own way in the world. Sounds simple enough, but that’s where Patchett does her magic. Each character comes to life – Dave’s tenacious personality, his entrepreneurial spirit and his love for real estate is courtesy his dad, whereas Maeve’s personality reflects her mother’s in her loving, protective and empathetic nature. The reader does not get much into the lives and behaviours of Mr. and Mrs. Conroy, but through Dave and Maeve, it gives a fair idea of what makes them who they are.
The Dutch House, a glass house prison, is a euphemism for the lives of people living inside it – each one caught up in their own world of ego, expectations, betrayal and longing. Danny and Maeve’s dysfunctional childhood leaves its marks through their formative years and dictates their adult life, which has its own repercussions. But like any classic fairytale this one too has a happy ending which is almost predictable.
Why did Patchett have to go and close the loop? Real life isn’t so perfect, and I wish the same sentiment was reflected in the book. Why were the wronged children made to be the bigger people? The ending irked me. I was routing for Danny and Maeve to win the hand that life had cruelly dealt them. But I was denied that satisfaction, instead what resulted was a tale of forgiveness and acceptance and perhaps that is the biggest reward – to accept graciously and move on because even though some people don’t deserve it, holding on to resentment just fosters negativity.
There, Patchett did it again. She managed to get me involved with her characters. Maeve and Danny will remain in my thoughts for a long time.