I’ve always wanted to read an Ann Patchett novel so I was excited to see a book by her on the list. However, when I saw that The Dutch House was a historical fiction (or it was set just post second World War) and my excitement dropped. Historicals almost never work for me, so I went into this one with sort of low expectations. I will say that this did not work for me, but not at all because it was sort of historical, which is actually really sad, since it makes me wonder if I would ever like a Patchett. So let’ s chat.
The Dutch House follows Danny, who is the story’s narrator, and his sister Maeve, after their father dies and they end up being exiled from the Dutch House, the house they grew up in. The story pretty much just follows their relationship and their lives.
Let’s start with the stuff I enjoyed about this one. I found the writing to be really palatable and readable, and this book never was a chore to pick up. This is definitely partially because of the fact that I read this via audiobook, which Tom Hanks narrates. The narration was superb and I am starting a petition for Hanks to narrate every single book in the universe. So I was actually excited to get back to listening this one, and I wasn’t bored, which is something I usually struggle with in historical fiction. This book, however, is not a historical, not truly. This has no sense of place or time to it, and to be honest it could have been set at any point in history, since the point of this was to tell a family story. There were some plot points that referenced stuff that is relevant to the time period, but not many. That was great for me personally because if that was added on top of the issues I already had, I never would have finished this one.
One other thing that worked for me (or at least in theory it worked) was Maeve. I found her character intriguing and I liked reading about her, so I could not help but wish we got her perspective here instead of Danny’s.
Where the issues start (and end) with me is the characters. For a story that focuses solely on the characters and their relationships, these characters were unbearably flat. There was no character arc that made sense, not even Maeve’s. Not only were the characters underdeveloped (which is truly a feat to accomplish in a 340-page book where nothing happens), but they did not make a lick of sense. I was baffled by some of their actions and I struggled so much to understand their motivation. At times it felt like the author made characters do stuff that made absolutely no sense for them as characters just to propel the story forward.
The more I think about this one, the madder I get, because I feel like this book had potential. There was a lot of room to do really interesting stuff with these relationships, but the book never went anywhere. Moreover, it felt into some really stereotypical tropes which I hate – like women hating each other for no reason, or step-parents being actually, comically, almost fairytale-esque evil. Seriously, what was the deal with that? Danny and Maeve’s step-mother was almost a cartoonish character from a Grimm fairytale and made absolutely ZERO sense. I was also frustrated that even Maeve, which I really liked, made decisions and did things that I could not justify. Mind you, I don’t care when characters are unlikeable or annoying, but I really do need to understand them, which this book just never manages to do.
It was also frustrating that the house, which the title suggests will be grand and almost be an entity in itself, also never made an impact. I love when places are given meaning and when they exist independently of the characters but because of them, but even that wasn’t an aspect that I think was well accomplished in this book.
This also lacked any sort of emotion or heart for me. I kept waiting for something to move me here, but because the characters were so poorly constructed, I could not find it in me to care. I cannot help but compare this with another book from the list that did not work for me – Actress. My issue with Actress was that it was too historical, it had too much description of parties and plays, but I did think it was well written and that the characters were interesting. Moreover, there was heart and emotion there, but I was bored out of my mind at times. The Dutch House was the opposite – I did not have any issue in finishing it, but the characters were mind-numbingly flat.
Sadly, this one did not really work for me. I felt like the characters were really flat and underdeveloped, and it’s really hard for me to care or like a book where I don’t care about the characters at all.
ALSO, I am stealing Hannah’s format and showing my current rankings of the Women’s Prize Longlist books at the end of these reviews.
1. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (review)
2. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson (review)
3. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (review)
4. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
5. Actress by Anne Enright (review)
6.Weather by Jenny Offill (review)
I would love to hear from you! Have you been reading anything from the longlist? Thoughts so far? Have you read The Dutch House? Let me know!
In the meantime, happy reading
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