Book Review: The Dutch House

Book Review: The Dutch House

Alayna Neal

If you have a heart that beats, the Dutch House, by Ann Patchet, is a story for you. It is a story of two siblings that bond for survival following their parents’ absence. 

This rags-to-riches story takes place on the outskirts of Philadelphia following World War II. Cyril Conroy, a war veteran, takes a gamble on real-estate investments that ultimately elevates his family from the ranks of poverty. As the real-estate mogul builds his empire, he purchases an abandoned mansion, “The Dutch House.” He does so with the hopes of pleasing his wife, Elna, and his two children Maeve and Danny. 

Elna immediately hates the home, believing it is too pretentious. She flees the country to do the work of Mother Theresa in India without saying goodbye. With Elna gone, The Dutch House’s maid and cook, both of whom are central figures in the book, take care of Maeve, ten years of age, and Danny, three years of age, while Cyril continues to build his real-estate empire.   

Fast forward several years. Cyril remarries a woman, Andrea, much younger, with two children of her own. Like Cinderella, tension forms between Andrea as stepmother and Maeve as stepdaughter. As a result, Maeve is sent to boarding school to finish her high-school years. In her quest to ensure Maeve never returns, Andrea gives Maeve’s bedroom to one of her daughters, leading to Maeve’s official ouster from The Dutch House. 

Danny and Maeve develop a bond to ensure they never lose each other. Danny frequently writes and visits Maeve. 

Fast forward again, Cyril dies of a heart attack. Andrea, having no interest in raising Danny, sends him to a boarding school. Andrea, her two children, and the maid and cook remain at the Dutch House. 

Maeve and Danny learn that their father left a trust. However, the trust does not benefit Maeve, only Danny and Andrea’s two children. Conditions of the trust: the money can be used only for education. On a quest to drain the trust so Andrea’s children get nothing, Maeve convinces Danny to attend Columbia University in New York, followed by Medical School at Columbia. 

Danny, despite earning an M.D., has no interest in medicine. Rather, his sister is bent on ensuring the trust money is used to its fullest extent without benefit to Andrea. Danny never practices medicine; he instead follows in his father’s footsteps as a real-estate developer. 

The story cuts in and out from past and present experiences, with both Maeve and Danny visiting the Dutch House from the front seat of their car while Andrea and her children continue to occupy the home inside. Danny and Maeve, continuously looking from the front seat of their car, sit and contemplate what life could have been if Andrea did not steal their childhood. 

The book ends with surprise twists and turns, leaving you on the seat of continued reading. A Conroy returns to make up for lost time while a younger Conroy is ready to take over The Dutch House. Much is learned of Andrea at the end. We learn that The Dutch House breaks a family only to later reunite it.