Set in Philadelphia over the course of about 50 years, The Dutch House tracks the lives of Cyril and Elna Conroy, their children Maeve and Danny, and Danny’s children May and Kevin. Cyril left the military after WWII and through a little bit of luck and a whole lot of having the right knowledge and the right time, ends up turning a couple investments into a vast real estate empire that nets him enough money to afford a beautiful mansion in Philadelphia. He buys the house as a surprise for his wife – who absolutely loathes the place. She hates the house so passionately, she practically lives in the kitchen, avoiding the opulence and grandeur around her. Over time, Elna begins leaving the house for longer and longer periods, before finally abandoning the family altogether to move to India on a mission to help the poor. Cyril, left alone to raise Maeve and Danny, becomes distant and withdrawn. As the kids grow older, they grow close to one another and Maeve takes on a kind of surrogate mother role for Danny.
Cyril’s second wife, Andrea, is not supportive or loving towards the children. And when Cyril dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, she inherits everything and kicks Danny out of the house (Maeve is in college by this point). What little is left to them in the trust goes almost exclusively to Danny, to pay for his medical school tuition.
And…..I think I’ve given away enough of the plot.
I loved this book. Almost inexplicably. This isn’t the kind of book I typically read. Had you asked me prior to reading this whether a Bildungsroman about a couple wealthy kids in mid-20th century Philadelphia would captivate me, I would tell you there’s almost no chance. But, here we are.
Patchett is a wonderful writer, and she really breathed life into the characters. Cyril and Elna are well drawn characters, and Maeve and Danny exhibit traits of both of their parents in really interesting ways.
My only qualm with the story is that Patchett occasionally bounces around in time, making it a little disorienting. But those moments are fairly rare. Overall, this was an excellent book, and I think I’ll look for more of her books. I’ve always wanted to read Bel Canto.