Review of ‘The Dutch House’ by Ann Patchett

I found this novel so dull that I ended up skim-reading the last half of it to see if anything interesting happened. It didn’t. Unfortunately, for me the most appealing element of the book is the cover image. Even more puzzling, it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize 2020.

Set mostly in the 60s and 70s, the story revolves around the Dutch House, a very grand home in Pennsylvania which the Conroy family move into. The narrator, Danny, describes his closeness to his older sister Maeve, in the absence of his mother and the coldness of his father. Tension builds when they gain a new stepmother, Andrea, who is nasty to everyone but loves the house. The narrative moves through time quite quickly, occasionally moving back and forth. Very little happens. The characters lead unremarkable lives, or at least their lives are described in unremarkable ways. It’s all so mundane. I was reminded of Stoner by John Williams, which was much hyped a few years ago and which was similarly yawn-inducing.

I’d read some very positive reviews and knew the book could potentially win a prestigious prize, so my expectations were obviously too high. I did like the first few chapters but it then became clear that the narrative style was not capturing my attention. If you’re interested in family dynamics and like the idea of following the progress of some ordinary characters through the decades, you might have better luck. However, I feel as if we never got to the heart of the characters, particularly the narrator. For a character-driven novel, we need to care more about them. The Catholicism theme was not appealing to me either.

Some of the writing was very well-crafted and I liked the observations of little details. Those are all the positives I can think of. This is the first Ann Patchett book I’ve read and it’s not exactly persuading me to try her others.

First published in 2019.

22 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Dutch House’ by Ann Patchett”

  1. I thought there would be some element of Dutchness in it because of the title. But reading your review I doubt there’s any there. I saw people reading it for the Eurovision readathon as the Dutch entry. But it shouldn’t count. Thank you for keeping me from trying a book I would’ve DNF’ed.

    1. The Dutchness in this book is very marginal, basically the house was built by Dutch people, whose portraits fascinate the narrator. But it’s mostly not about that. If it’s not the kind of book you would read anyway, it’s not worth trying. Thanks for stopping by 😊

    1. Thanks! 🙂 Wow I think Tom Hanks will do a good job, maybe it will be a more riveting story as an audiobook!

  2. I haven’t come across anyone that has said they loved this book. It’s on my TBR, but way at the bottom. I’ll likely never read it. Great review.

    1. I’ve seen some very positive reviews and of course it had a chance of winning the prize, which proves that someone must have loved it…. yet I couldn’t see anything to love 🙁 You might like it, and if you go in with low expectations then who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised.

    1. It seems there are a few of us… I remember your review was not that favourable. I did go in with an open mind but it really wasn’t my kind of book.

  3. Totally agree with you about the characters. I did like Maeve a little though and the sibling relationship. The author’s writing helped too. Sorry you didn’t enjoy this. On to the next:)

    1. I remember you generally liked this one? 🙂 Actually Maeve was the most interesting character in the book and the one I would remember the most. Yep, on to the next… I have so many books to read!

  4. This one’s on my list, though I think I’ll wait for the paperback. I’m interested to see how she does the Catholic themes. She didn’t do that well in Run. Her Bel Canto is one of my favorite novels, but there was a lot of plot in that one. Another book blogger, Bookish Beck, appreciates Patchett’s nonfiction more than her fiction, so I might try some of that.

    1. I never encountered an Ann Patchett before, indeed I’m not sure I’d heard of her until I started seeing the book on blogs and social media! I’m not ruling out reading any of her other work, I usually try an author twice before concluding they are not for me. You might like this one, If you’re waiting for the paperback I guess you’ll have to wait a year or so to find out!

    1. I’d never even heard of Bel Canto, but I might give Ann Patchett another chance 🙂

  5. Oh dear! I’ve seen some similar reviews on this book and frankly it’s not a book I’m considering reading. It’s a shame because the premise seems interesting enough but the lack of plot makes it sound very dull. Hope your next read is much better!

    1. I wouldn’t recommend it, yet I know a lot of people loved it. Strange. Thanks for reading!

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