Bookish Banter- Ann Patchett's The Dutch House

We all have a few authors that automatically get bumped up to the top of the TBR pile when they release new books. For Julie (Julz Reads) and I, Ann Patchett is definitely one of those authors. We had so much fun doing out last Bookish Banter that we planned on this little collaboration several months out, Patchett’s new release The Dutch House being the obvious choice. This novel is set in a truly magnificent home, focusing on the complicated brother-sister relationship of Danny and Maeve. Here’s what we thought:

Christine S (CS): The first thing that struck me was the enormity of the symbolism behind the Dutch House- it almost takes on the position of a character, in a way, just in terms of how it impacts so many people in such diverse ways. Richard Powers said in his novel The Overstory that “places remember what people forget” and I thought the quote was so applicable here, given that it spans three generations. The house connects everyone together whether they want to be or not and is a sort of beacon for their eventual reunion. It sounded absolutely amazing from an architectural perspective, but probably not like a place I’d actually want to live in. What about you? How did you feel about the house?

Julie M (JM):  I loved the opulence Patchett portrayed since I’m such a sucker for ornate details.  I could live in a house like that. It did feel like a living, breathing character who’s only role was to witness and harbor the family drama.

I think the house conveyed a timelessness and I don’t blame Andrea for wanting to insert herself into the scene.  Although her desire to “acquire” the house seemed a little unfair to her daughters.  She never did take them into consideration, like they were an afterthought to her. 

CS: We talked a little bit about the sibling relationship the other day. It’s logical that their bonds would be intense and unique, given their upbringing, but sometimes I just wanted to scream at Danny to stand up for himself and stop letting Maeve dictate his future as much as she wanted to. Medical training is such a commitment, even for those that are passionate about the field! I was amused by her desire to drain the trust, but she was also incredibly selfish at the same time, since she using Danny to satisfy her own vengeful mission.

JM:  I wouldn’t have thought a brother and sister who were 7 years apart in age would have been as close as Danny and Maeve, except for the fact that she had to step in as a mother figure after Elna left.  Do you think Maeve’s selfishness in part had to do with her lack of control over her diabetes? Perhaps she wanted a doctor in the family because then Danny’s medical training could make her feel less helpless. 

CS: That’s interesting… she couldn’t fully relinquish the control to him, even on that issue, though… I do think that control was definitely something at the forefront of everything she did.

The contrast between Andrea and Elna was of course striking. One loves the house, the other doesn’t. One lives for helping those who need it, the other the opposite. Old wife, new wife. I could go on and on. Andrea of course is totally the antagonist, and I think her eventual memory loss was actually far less of a punishment than she deserved (not that dementia is a positive for anyone, but she was in a way released from her crimes by not remembering them). What did you think about her downfall? And what about Elna? I know Patchett’s holes in her plotline were intentional, but they did bother me on Danny’s behalf (like Maeve I guess I feel a little protective of him).

JM:  Elna’s sudden reappearance reminded me of that episode of the Simpsons when Mona (Homer’s mother) resurfaces. She had to leave for the greater good and spent the rest of her life focused on being charitable. 

I also wanted to see Andrea get more of the comeuppance she deserved.  Like if there had been a way for Danny and Maeve to legally (triumphantly!) wrest the house away from her.

CS: Yes! I was hoping that he was going to somehow come in and buy it out from under her or something.

 The last character I want to talk about is Celeste- another sort of foil situation Patchett uses, in comparison with Maeve. I can’t decide if she was an unlikable character or if any wife of Danny’s was doomed. She came across as a nagging, unsympathetic, impatient wife sometimes, but when I stopped and looked at things from her perspective I saw how hard it must be for her.

JM:  I think it would have been hard for any woman Danny married.  To play second fiddle to a domineering sister whom he placed on a pedestal would have been frustrating.  You call her impatient, while I have to commend Celeste for her patience during the years of their “break”, but yes, she was overbearing in her own way.  It was ironic that it was only after Maeve died and Danny was able to turn his focus onto his own family that Celeste finally got fed up with him because she no longer had Maeve as a target for her contempt.

And what did you think of Fluffy’s return?  I was pleasantly surprised with how helpful she was and how much she devoted herself to the family after so many years of absence.

CS: Yes! I definitely had a soft spot for Fluffy. She was a good woman.

Criticism? Personally, I liked it better than Commonwealth, but it’s not my favorite Patchett (still super solid and I’d recommend, it though). Like I said, I thought Elna’s character was a little under-developed; she could have rounded her out a bit more while still staying true the mystery she was conveying. I also thought there were some parts at the end that felt like they were a little slower, compared to other parts.

JM:  I thought Commonwealth had more intricate plot threads, but Bel Canto will always be my favorite Patchett.  Her characters are well-developed and realistically flawed.  Despite the horrid situation they were in after Andrea kicked them out of the Dutch House, Danny and Maeve were scrappy and self-reliant, and I appreciated that probably more than anything else about them.  And of course, how the whole house thing came full-circle with Danny’s daughter made for a satisfying conclusion.

That’s it for now! We’ll be back at it again… once we figure out the book. Ha! 

No comments:

Post a Comment