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.