Patchett’s prose is confident, unfussy and unadorned. I can’t pluck out one sentence worth quoting, but how effective they are when woven together—these translucent lines that envelop you like a spider’s web. It can feel old-fashioned: her style, her attachment to a very traditional kind of storytelling — a vision of the novel as a Dutch house, with a clarity and transparency of purpose and method, a refusal of narrative tricksiness. But like the family’s Dutch house, it’s an enduring structure, which gives an added dimension to the references in the text — its way of gesturing toward a lineage ... Our willingness to serve each other represents the best of us, according to Patchett, and it is almost as if she wants to take the notion of motherhood and release its power into the commons — what if we were willing to mother one another, mother strangers? But she is also always full of warnings about the self-abnegation it requires, especially of women — and never more clearly than in this new novel ... 'The love between humans is the thing that nails us to this earth,' Patchett wrote in her memoir This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage — a belief her new novel shares but shades with caution. There’s no missing the statement’s brutal, brilliant ambivalence.
This novel takes a winding road through the forest and doesn’t rush to a finish, nor is the ending wholly surprising. But if you allow yourself to walk along with Patchett, you’ll find riches at the end of the trail ... Patchett pulls this off both through her conviction and through her willingness not to wink at or be coy about what she’s doing. There are even direct references to well-loved childhood classics ... The power of fairy tales is the way in which they grapple with some of the verities of human life — kindness and cruelty, love and hate. So it is in this novel ... Unlike a fairy tale, The Dutch House is peopled not with archetypes but with distinctive and believable characters ... It’s a rare novel that examines the experience of a close and dependent brother-sister relationship — far more often, we see tales of same-gender siblings. If sometimes Maeve and Danny seem a little too good to be true...their devotion is also quite moving ... There are very few sharp edges in this novel beyond Andrea’s central villainy and I periodically found myself wishing for a narrative that was, if not searing, a little less smooth ...That said, what I (occasionally) wished for isn’t what Patchett was trying to achieve. The heroes and heroines of fairy tales face mighty challenges but they almost always make it through in the end. In The Dutch House, all’s well that ends well — and that’s a pleasure.
The Dutch House arrives just three years [after Commonwealth]—the shortest gap between novels for Patchett since the ’90s—and while it shares those strengths, it’s a less polished, more experimental effort. This marks a rare foray into first-person prose for Patchett, and her focus on perspective proves rigorous ... Best is The Dutch House’s first section ... As Patchett glides through the years, her philosophical inquiry intensifies while her narrative peters out ... Maeve, held in Danny’s image, is kept at a distance. Dramatic incident is minimal. Even one pivotal character’s late re-emergence is handled quietly, delicately, less impactful on story than mood. The book lingers in that way, though, like any good fairy tale, setting in its hooks with a dreamy sadness.
A timeless plot ... Each character’s role, from victim to villain, seems as clear as the sunlight flooding those marble floors. Over time, however, sharp distinctions are blurred by a series of well-timed revelations and deftly placed subplots. Yet the novel’s focus on the Conroys’ main drama remains tight. The Dutch House is, as a result, one of Ms. Patchett’s most straightforward novels and one of her best, artfully paced, gently ironic, a feat of portraiture rather than melodrama ... As always, the author draws us close to her protagonists swiftly and gracefully ... the sense of intimacy created is immediate and enduring. This is Ms. Patchett’s great skill, and it transcends any setting ... far more than a parable of forgiveness, never mind its rhapsodic ending.
...bare summary sounds like melodrama, and this plot would devolve into cliche in the hands of a softer more sentimental novelist. Fortunately, Patchett is made of sterner stuff ... Patchett dramatizes this sibling bond as beautiful, necessary and dangerous ... Here again, the situation sounds both bleak and fanciful, but Patchett writes with restraint, never indulging in overwrought language ... Masterfully, this scene dramatizes the central conflict in The Dutch House— not the struggle between orphans and stepmother, innocent children and wicked witch — but the war between memory and mature reflection, childhood myth and adult analysis. A classic theme, but what makes this novel extraordinary is Patchett’s fair-minded presentation. She inhabits both the child and adult point of view. Both have their powers, their insights and deceptions, their vanities, cruelties, and passions. The outcome is uncertain, lives hang in the balance, and we cannot stop reading. Subtle mystery, psychological page-turner, Patchett’s latest is a thriller.
Patchett's eighth novel is a paradise lost tale dusted with a sprinkling of Cinderella, The Little Princess, and Hansel and Gretel ... Rare among Patchett's fiction, The Dutch House is written in the first person, from Danny's adult point-of-view. Because Danny is by design a clueless, tight-lipped character, it isn't clear that this was the right choice; an omniscient third person narration might have been a better way to get deeper inside him ... Patchett's concern here, as in much of her fiction, is with the often unconventional families we cobble together with what's available to us. Being Patchett, she brings her novel around to themes of gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness. The Dutch House goes unabashedly sentimental, but chances are, you won't want to put down this engrossing, warmhearted book even after you've read the last page.
This is a depiction of wholehearted, undiluted love, of praise that cannot be held back. It is tiring to Danny’s wife, Celeste, whose mutual dislike of her sister-in-law occasionally reads like a sitcom trope, adding conflict to work that often functions like a love song ... The novel, save for a few dramatic scenes, could nearly be distilled to those hours in the car, with Maeve’s cigarette smoke and Danny’s eager questions, as they cobble together a family history and serve as each other’s witness. 'The ghosts are what I come for,' Sandy says, explaining her continued presence at the Dutch house even after it belongs to Andrea. Readers, too, should come for the ghosts: they give the novel its richness, its texture, and its heart.
... intricate and alluring ... The Dutch House is more than a house, of course. Like Bronte’s Thornfield or Wuthering Heights, Du Maurier’s Manderley, Jay Gatsby’s mansion, Darcy’s Pemberley, and Miss Havisham’s Satis House, it is a compelling character in its own right, one which plays a central role in courtships, marriages, and the trajectory of its inhabitants’ lives ... jumps around in time. This is both a strength and a weakness of the novel, sometimes evacuating it of suspense and propulsive urgency, but just as often enabling interesting juxtapositions and deeper reflections on perspective and memory — though as Patchett reminds us, it’s impossible 'to ever see the past as it actually was' ... The precision and subtlety of Patchett’s observations about family, her deft absorption and redeployment of a host of literary modes and models, and her narrator’s unsparing honesty are all deserving of high praise. And despite a final plot twist that feels a bit pat, The Dutch House has the richness, allusiveness, and emotional heft of the best fiction.
Ann Patchett made this up! Well, duh, you might say — it’s a novel, she’s a fiction writer. And yet what’s striking is how little like fiction it feels, with Danny Conroy telling us about his life as if someone asked: What’s the deal with the Dutch House? ... For all its memoiristic feel — the meetings and marriages, curious incidents, explanations and missed chances, as Danny goes to medical school but then to work, like his father, in real estate, always under the watchful eye of his beloved motherly Maeve — the story has the makings of a fairy tale: the exiled children, the enchanted house, a touch of Cinderella, a hint of Hansel and Gretel. And squaring off at the heart of either, life story or fairy tale, are the lessons of absence and loss: how to love what’s gone, and what remains.
... confirms what we’ve always known: Ann Patchett doesn’t write a bad book. Though the settings may differ, each of Patchett’s books tells a compelling, vivid and imaginative story while offering a deep meditation on human nature ... Patchett’s knack for aging her characters over many decades serves the story well. The Dutch House is a vast, almost preternatural property, and the characters who have, at one point or another, inhabited it are at the heart of this absorbing tale. It’s fitting and inevitable that the home eventually beckons them back.
... the question of what, if any, kind of reconciliation with the past might still be achieved after such a profound betrayal gives The Dutch House an irresistible narrative drive. It’s a mark of Patchett’s skill that the novel’s bold fairytale elements – its doubles and archetypes, its two children left to find their own way back to their home after being expelled – add up to a story that feels wholly naturalistic ... James said that the house of fiction has 'not one window, but a million', depending on who is looking at the scene, and Patchett’s elegantly constructed narrative often reads like a dramatisation of this idea ... It’s a rare Patchett novel that ends without the slightest glimmer of redemption, and here the major players virtually all – as in a story by James – arrive at final positions that involve an ironic inversion of where they started ... as always, Patchett leads us to a truth that feels like life rather than literature.
... another wonderful read by an author who embodies compassion ... Rare among Patchett's fiction, The Dutch House is written in the first person, from Danny's adult point-of-view. Because Danny is by design a clueless, tight-lipped character, it isn't clear that this was the right choice; an omniscient third person narration might have been a better way to get deeper inside him. Many of the details about his eccentric upbringing come courtesy of his older sister, a much more interesting character ... belongs to a tradition in both fairy tales and American fiction of motherless children ... Patchett's concern here, as in much of her fiction, is with the often unconventional families we cobble together with what's available to us. Being Patchett, she brings her novel around to themes of gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness. The Dutch House goes unabashedly sentimental, but chances are, you won't want to put down this engrossing, warmhearted book even after you've read the last page.
...a fierce, intimate, and unstoppably readable saga of family life ... The Dutch House weaves together, with clear-eyed compassion and intuitive, witty honesty, the ties that keep us whole and hold us back ... It’s Patchett’s ability to fully articulate the richest and most complex emotions that leaves the reader marveling, and always wanting more.
Since early advance copies of The Dutch House went into circulation an excitable buzz has been building. Cited as the novel Patchett was born to write, her best novel yet, and contender for book of the year, the hype bar has set expectations so high that it creates unreasonable expectations for the reader. And yet, Patchett’s novel rises to the occasion with what appears to be effortless grace ... Despite the potential for melodrama that the plot offers, this novel is a much more nuanced and bewitching affair than that. The central sibling relationship is a complex and peculiar one that offers a vehicle for Patchett to explore the heavyweight concerns of familial obsession, sacrifice and loyalty. At times the poignancy of her delicate portrayal of the ordinary devastations that befall human beings is incredibly arresting. Perhaps this may be the secret to Patchett’s success; her insightful unpicking of the interpersonal dynamics that drive our relationships and an ability to interrogate the subtext underplaying behaviours. She understands the consequences of forced human interaction and how to test her characters to the point of blistering revelation ... The novel moves on from the well-worn tropes of conflict between stepchildren and a cruel step-parent and instead is invested in scrutinising what it means to be a mother ... Brimming with intertextualities, Patchett’s prose is confident and meticulous from the opening page; this novel draws you in and holds you safely in its hands until her work is done. The work, like the opulent glass house of its namesake, is clear, solidly structured and purposeful; the style of traditional storytelling that in a less skilled practitioner might appear old-fashioned here becomes transcendent in its simplicity. If a quiet, psychological, family drama could ever be considered a thriller, then this is the book to achieve it. Deserving of the praise it has garnered already, The Dutch House, may prove to be the defining novel of Patchett’s career.
The narrative of The Dutch House is finely structured in a series of time slips, moving backwards and forwards, unfolding history and managing suspense ... Patchett’s gloomy descriptions of Harlem and her light evocation of the gardens of Elkins Park reveal the spirit of a place through its appearance, and her suggestive final chapter, in which a new generation is shown growing up and the future is both like and unlike the past, offers a coming together of the novel’s themes in a mood of forgiveness ... The idea that looking back and loss are intertwined and that fate is a series of chance events is unassertively demonstrated. The sheer ease of Patchett’s writing, her warm humour, natural dialogue and the clever unfolding of fictional justice keep the reader engrossed and enlightened.
The looping timeline of The Dutch House deepens the emotional charge of its family drama ... The melancholy realism with which Patchett draws out the unrealised potential of her characters feels downright un-American, yet her storytelling is leavened by moments of grace and reconciliation. Both victory and defeat, after all, peter out to nothing in the end. Indelibly poignant in its long unspooling perspective on family life, The Dutch House brilliantly captures how time undoes all certainties.
Ann Patchett...has delivered in The Dutch House a novel likely to lead to spirited love-it-or-hate-it chatter over wine and cheese ... The Dutch House is certainly intriguing, but you can almost feel Patchett laboriously constructing it room by room ... Danny, a good if passive kid who lives in his own bubble, is our (often clueless) conduit to the Conroy family secrets. As a character, unfortunately, he’s not terribly interesting until late in the book, when he’s a grown man ... Patchett has real affection for her characters, even prickly, bitter Maeve. The Dutch House is a rambling maze of a book, but if you keep following its undaunted author, you’ll arrive at a place of forgiveness and comfort that feels, yes, something like home.
...[a] fine new novel ... The Dutch House is a novel that assures Patchett, alongside John Irving and Anne Tyler, a place as one of the foremost chroniclers of the burdens of emotional inventory and its central place in American lives.
... a big-hearted, capacious novel, like the dwelling at the center of it, with Dickensian touches throughout. Its characterization varies with mileage, but the novel’s exploration of family and place is as searching as any in Patchett’s oeuvre, as she limns the pain of even the most privileged. There’s an affecting twist in her final act, leading to yet more tragedy ... Danny’s celestial city proves elusive, but as Patchett suggests, the striving may be the point, even if it leaves a bittersweet taste to 'happily ever after.'
Fortunately for the protagonists and the reader, Patchett permits Danny and Maeve to ultimately escape resentment and hatred. Although both siblings are distinctive, believable, and engaging, Maeve is irresistible, one of the fiercest and funniest 'orphan girl' heroines since Pippy Longstocking ... This is a serious and poignant story, but also a delightfully funny one, as we’ve come to expect from the author.
... deeply moving ... Patchett nimbly side-steps expectations with a literary strategy that moves the narrative’s chronology backward and forward, so that we see adult Danny and Maeve coping with their lessened circumstances and their terrible betrayal as well as the unfolding of life in the Dutch House. Maeve’s outrage in the wake of their expulsion is especially thrilling ... As in Patchett’s previous work, secondary characters are given full and rich stories, leading to a wide view of the many lives intersecting around the Dutch House. This tapestry of human relationships – shredded, loving, aching, renewed – is the novel’s second finest achievement, pulling us close to care about the outcomes of so many lives. The Dutch House’s main accomplishment is its portrayal of Danny and Maeve’s relationship, a brother-sister love that is imperfect, oak-strong and impeccably rendered by a master of contemporary fiction at the peak of her career ... While few people will ever set foot into a property as grand as the imaginary Dutch House, many of us know well the complicated bonds of siblinghood. The story of devotion between the two characters at the heart of this fairy tale will delight Ann Patchett’s many fans, and will no doubt bring her even more admirers.
Patchett flashes back and forward throughout the book, mirroring Danny’s feelings of suspension, which is an effective and brilliant device ... By the end, as with all good novels, we don’t view the Dutch house in quite the same way because the characters don’t view the house the same, which is both heartbreaking and satisfying ... All these rich ideas require a vibrant voice, and Danny’s resonates ... This finely textured novel is made up of many such small, intimate moments, yet the effect is sweeping, grand, and lavish—and all deeply moving.
Patchett's storytelling abilities shine in this gratifying novel, particularly as she moves toward the surprising and delightful conclusion ... It's important to note, though, that architectural history fans may feel a little slighted if they were drawn to the title looking for a story about an old vernacular Dutch house. The mansion is a hodgepodge of styles named for its inhabitants' lineage, with a few blue Delft mantels 'pried out of a castle in Utrecht.'
Not all of Patchett’s characters...are fully developed or believable, perhaps because of the narrator’s own limited powers of observation ... Still, this is an affecting family drama that explores the powerful tug of nostalgia and the exclusionary force of shared resentments.
Not for nothing does Patchett have a reputation for painful as well as compelling storytelling ... A story of loss, of ghosts, of what Danny calls ‘a house on fire’, The Dutch House brings closure of a sort but is not shy of leaving the facts of pain exposed.
... elegant ... Years blink by in a paragraph, Danny’s children survive infancy in a few pages. What this allows Patchett to do is illustrate how often our preoccupation with the past blinkers our ability to (as the mindfulness gurus insist) stay present ... maybe that’s what fairy tales are for: to remind us that bravery’s there for the taking.
Ann Patchett is too good a storyteller not to give her characters psychological complexities that make their decisions, actions, judgements and mistakes fully human ... This may be a modern-day fairytale for adults but it is full of Patchett’s understanding of the complexities of family relationships and family loyalties. Danny’s wife and children, his parents, and the former servants, Fluffy, Sandy and Jocelyn, all play their parts as the story unfolds and dramatic events reveal the very different nature of each of them. All of which makes for an absorbing and satisfying story.
Ann Patchett is a terrific novelist to have in your back pocket — an Orange Prize-winning storyteller whose reliably sympathetic novels get right inside the mysterious bonds and fractures that make up American family life. Still, I’m not sure her most recent is her best ... Patchett’s portrayal of the many alternative ways one person can care for another in this world is interesting, but, after a glittering start, the momentum of this sprawling novel fatally ebbs.
Patchett is at her subtle yet shining finest in this gloriously incisive, often droll, quietly suspenseful drama of family, ambition, and home ... With echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and in sync with Alice McDermott, Patchett gracefully choreographs surprising revelations and reunions as her characters struggle with questions of heredity, altruism, forgiveness, social expectations, and the need to be one’s true self.
For Patchett, family connection comes not from formal ties or ceremonies but from shared moments ... Despite the presence of a grasping stepmother, this is no fairy tale, and Patchett remarkably traces acts of cruelty and kindness through three generations of a family over 50 years. Patchett’s splendid novel is a thoughtful, compassionate exploration of obsession and forgiveness, what people acquire, keep, lose or give away, and what they leave behind.
...a deeply pleasurable book ... It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors...while utterly committed to them ... Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's...stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it. Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.