Sharon's Book Club - January 2020
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
From the New York Times bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, comes Ann Patchett’s most powerful novel to date: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are.
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 unshakeable 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.
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News & Reviews
The Dutch House is a story of the relationship between two siblings, their loyalty to each other, and their obsession with their past and the house they grew up in. It is a story of acceptance, forgiveness and unconditional love that compels each of us to look at our own childhood past with the lens of adult perspective. There is a melodic cadence to Ann Patchett’s writing that is incredibly poetic. Her descriptions of the house are exquisite and her ability to develop the house into a character that stays deliberately and ominously as it always was, never changing, is idiomatic. Read my full review.
Patchett’s eighth novel is a paradise lost tale dusted with a sprinkling of Cinderella, The Little Princess and Hansel and Gretel. Two siblings, Maeve and Danny Conroy, bond tightly after their mother leaves home when they’re 10 and 3. Home is the eponymous Dutch House, a 1922 mansion outside Philadelphia that their father, Cyril, a real estate mogul, bought fully furnished in an estate sale as a surprise for his wife in 1946, when Maeve was 5. The house, built by a Dutch couple who made their fortune in cigarettes, is grand, with an ornate dining room ceiling, six bedrooms on the second floor, and a ballroom on the third floor. His wife, Elna, hates it, aesthetically and ethically. After she flees, ostensibly to India to devote herself to the poor, her family suffers, as if “they had all become characters in the worst part of a fairy tale,” Patchett writes.
The house in the title of this novel — a lavish estate in the Philadelphia suburbs — is a character of its own. Bought by the narrator’s father as a surprise for his wife, it ends up being, instead, a sort of curse. A fascinating family drama.
Book Club Discussion Video
Book Club Discussion Topics
The Dutch House is a story of the relationship between two siblings, their loyalty to each other, and their obsession with their past and the house they grew up in. It is a story of acceptance, forgiveness and unconditional love that compels each of us to look at our own childhood past with the lens of adult perspective.
The following book club questions may have spoilers so if you haven’t read the novel yet, be sure to read the review first.
The Story Plot
- What are the major plot points that commit the protagonist (and the reader)?
- What are the turning points that cause our hero to act and/or change? Is it believable?
- How was the pacing/structure (does it keep you engaged and are the stakes constantly escalating)?
Character Arc / Hero’s Journey
- For Danny and Maeve—individually and as a unit, what false-truth do they believe at the beginning of the story?
- What is it they want verses what is it that they need?
- How is the thing they want keeping them from growth?
- Do they learn and grow? What is at stake if they don’t?
- Is there an unsung hero (secondary arc)?
- Did it work for you?
- Were all the “contracts” the author made with you fulfilled?
- What would you change if you could rewrite it?
- Let’s talk about the House – what did it symbolize (for Danny and Maeve, for Elna, Fluffy, Andrea?)
- Use one adjective to describe the writing itself.
- Can you give some examples?
- What did you love most about the book?
- What didn’t you like?
Out of five, how many stars?