Book Review: The Dutch House

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 unshakable 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. 

Published September 24th 2019 by Harper

What did I think?

I love a long family saga and this one ended way too soon for me. I wanted to know what would happen to the next generation.

I think one of the reasons it resonated with me was the storybook atmosphere of the house, the evil stepmother, and how terrible things just kept happening. The characters in the story had a lot to deal with and they did the best they could again and again.

There’s a lot to unpack here for a discussion, the trend after WW2 to buy that big house outside the city, the dysfunctional family dynamics caused by divorce, what does forgiveness look like in real life?

The Dutch House by Ann Pratchett turned out to be the exact book I needed to break me out of a weird reading funk. I was reading, but nothing was “amazing” and for me that’s rare. I saw this book on the seven day shelf of the library and picked it up. It’s not really new, no one cared whether I read it, and most of all I was under no obligation to review it at all. Those factors along with the fact that it’s also a great story leaves me writing this review today.

If you like audio books, Tom Hanks reads this book, and I found the sample compelling. If I do a re-read it’ll be a audible book for sure.

Book Review-The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding

I’ve read a lot about World War 2, and this is such a fresh take on Britain just before Queen Elizabeth gets married. It’s not so much about the Royal Wedding despite the title. The story has three narrators, Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin are embroiderers who worked on The Dress themselves. Heather Mackenzie is Ann’s granddaughter, and her story was told in 2016.

The chapters alternate and as the story unfurled in 1947, you get an excellent sense of post-war life in London. People are trying to get back to some kind of new post-war normal, and it is so difficult because they are all damaged from living through the various atrocities. Meanwhile, in 2016, Heather’s grandma has passed away leaving Heather with a box of embroidered roses that are an exact match to those on Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress.

I enjoyed Heather’s storyline, but Ann and Miriam’s stories were what kept me reading. Life just after World War 2 ended (in my spoiled eyes) still seems pretty harsh. It’s cold, you can’t really afford just to go buy a warmer coat, food is still rationed, and you have to be creative not to starve. Add in that people still had to commute and get to work on time all the while having various degrees of PTSD? Sigh. The writing is so good you feel it all.

Obviously, the Holocaust is mentioned, and there is sexual violence, seems too weird to say, but it is balanced a bit by the 2016 Rom Com aspects. You won’t feel depressed after reading this, and that is the mark of excellent historical fiction writing.