Book report - The Dutch House

Women Talking 
 
 
Hello Fellow Bookworms,
Here is the book report.
 
Please always feel free to add edits or opinions that you think I have left out - if you could see the notes I took at the meeting you would be amazed that I can still string a sentence together!
Book Report Friday March 9th - The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, presenter Barbara Jacobs
 
 
At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy buys the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, as a surprise for his wife who absolutely loathes it, and eventually leaves, abandoning her two children…
On the surface this is a family saga. Ann Patchett is good at writing about dysfunctional families, with emotionally crippled characters. All the family relationships are important here, but particularly those of the siblings.
 
Patchett has an easy, sympathetic style that drew us into the book and made us own the story, witness the fact that we spent most of the discussion talking about the family, what happened to them, how they reacted, what they could/should have done, who was guiltier than whom, the love they showed or didn’t… as if they were real people not just fictional characters. We felt true outrage at their actions, in some cases. We discussed the tensions within the family, the lack of parental love, the damage inflicted by this, the children being given responsibilities they shouldn’t have at a young age, the unconditional love showed by the elder sibling Maeve to her little brother, and the advent of the wicked stepmother - giving the feeling of a fairy tale.  
 
The book is a good illustration of how emotional damage is passed on from one generation to the next. One of the interesting points we discussed was Who buys a house for their wife as a surprise?! Well it turns out this is a male family failing, as the son goes on to do the same thing in his turn and with a similar result, in that his wife detests the house he’s chosen, and it wrecks their marriage.
 
Sensitivity to others’ feelings is not a great attribute of the men in this book. Their attitudes to fatherhood sometimes leave a lot to be desired, too. In fact we found Cyril to be ‘despicable, lazy, and neglectful’. The question arose - how much less is it accepted that a mother abandons home and children than if a father does the same.
 
Towards the end of the discussion we realised that the house is in fact a central character! Possibly we didn’t discuss this enough?
 
We did enjoy this novel, although we felt that the ending didn’t quite match the book, as it is rather sentimental, not very realistic, and not necessarily satisfactory, but it does tie up all the loose ends.
 
Other books by Ann Patchett, recommended by group members: Bel Canto, Commonwealth, and State of Wonder that we have already read.
 
Next book - Friday 14th May: Women Talking by Miriam Toews, presenter Denise
Happy reading
Rosie x