Cyril is revealed as weak and neglectful, a man who never really liked children, even his own. Insisting that she has “no business in a place like that, all those fireplaces and staircases, all those people waiting on me”, she flees to help the destitute in India. “We look back through the lens of what we know now,” he decides, “so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.” The glass-walled Dutch House may be open to view, but the truth it contains is obscured. "He loved buildings the way boys loved dogs," he adds later, an observation equally applicable to himself. Having carried out his sister’s revenge against their stepmother by qualifying as a doctor, he refuses to practise medicine. It’s a mark of Patchett’s skill that the novel’s bold fairytale elements – its doubles and archetypes, its two children left to find their own way back to their home after being expelled – add up to a story that feels wholly naturalistic. The other characters don’t get off lightly either. "The problem, I wanted to say, was that I was asleep to the world. The Dutch House is, in part, about real estate lust. I thought Bel Canto was a lovely book, and State of Wonder was just okay, but still well written. Periodically, he scrolls back to his boyhood, tracing his intangible inheritances, which include his reticence and the real estate bug he caught from his father. Ann Patchett may well be the most beloved book person in America — not just for her irresistibly absorbing novels and memoirs (including The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto and This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage) but for becoming a patron saint of readers and publishers when she opened Parnassus Books in her hometown of Nashville, Tenn. And despite a few small reservations, this is the story of a happy book critic: The Dutch House is another wonderful read by an author who embodies compassion. Check. Their father, in the way of 1940s fathers and fairytale kings, is too busy ruling his empire to oversee their care. "But we overlay the present onto the past," Danny objects, a statement that highlights the trickiness of retrospective personal histories, including the one we're reading. The best-selling author on totally rewriting her new book, being mad at her neighbors and the inaccuracy of memories. Many of the details about his eccentric upbringing come courtesy of his older sister, a much more interesting character. He acquires the house in 1946 when the Van Hoebeeks go bankrupt, taking possession not only of the building but of its servants and sumptuous contents, and installing his wife, Elna, and children, Maeve and Danny, in their ready-made new existence overnight. reviewed by Jackie Thomas-Kennedy. Danny adds later, "We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it. We pretended that what we had lost was the house, not our mother, not our father." The windows both took in the sun and reflected it back against the wide lawn.”. Home is the eponymous Dutch House, a 1922 mansion outside Philadelphia that their father, Cyril, a real estate mogul, bought fully furnished in an estate sale as a surprise for his wife in 1946, when Maeve was 5. It begins in the late 1940s, when Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with a glass mansion in the posh Philadelphia neighborhood of Elkins Park. ‘Like a piece of art, the Dutch House ignites extreme reactions in the people who come into contact with it.’ Ropsley House in Philadelphia, built in 1916. Check that, too. In her eighth novel, Patchett revisits the concerns of previous works, including Commonwealth (the shifting plates of family life after divorce; the bonds among siblings; the process of forgiveness) and Run (the absent mother, the creation of family). The Dutch House book. Danny survives the loss of his mother because his sister – loving, resourceful Maeve, vividly drawn by Patchett – steps into the breach: “Maeve was there, with her red coat and her black hair, standing at the bottom of the stairs, the white marble floor with the little black squares.” She’s Snow White or Red Riding Hood as Vermeer might have painted her. And if Maeve is a substitute mother then she’s in some ways as compromised a figure as Elna and Andrea, demanding her own relentless form of sacrifice in the guise of Danny’s medical studies. His wife, Elna, hates it, aesthetically and ethically. It’s no coincidence that Maeve has “a stack of Henry James novels on her bedside table” – among them The Turn of the Screw. Danny’s eventual accommodation of the past, and of his family’s choices, seems both inevitable and earned. “Seen from certain vantage points of distance, it appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on. When Elna goes, the Conroys are thrown into a crisis of archetypal proportions: “They had all become characters in the worst part of a fairytale.” The children are left to the ministrations of the cook and housekeeper, a pair of warm-hearted sisters (though Danny, like a fairytale prince, doesn’t realise for a long time that his two watchful guardians have their own backstory). Vanished fairytale mothers have a habit of reappearing at critical times, and so it is with self-denying Elna, “the little sister of the poor, the assemblage of bones and tennis shoes”. The house, built by a Dutch couple who made their fortune in cigarettes, is grand, with an ornate dining room ceiling, six bedrooms on the second floor, and a ballroom on the third floor. James said that the house of fiction has “not one window, but a million”, depending on who is looking at the scene, and Patchett’s elegantly constructed narrative often reads like a dramatisation of this idea. I’ve taken bits and pieces from great houses I’ve been in over my life and run those details together — carved wooden panels, the dining room ceiling, a tiny kitchen in a grand house, the staircase, the ability to see through certain houses. Check. (less) flag The Dutch House (Harper), Ann Patchett’s masterful eighth novel, is a fierce, intimate, and unstoppably readable saga of family life. Built in boomtime 1920s Philadelphia, it boasts Delft mantels and marble floors, a ballroom and a dining room with a gilt ceiling “more in keeping with Versailles than Eastern Pennsylvania”.