This review of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett explores the fictional family saga that has become a reader favorite and one of my favorite books of all time.
An ode to this heartfelt book, this post also provides:
- An answer to the question of whether The Dutch House is real;
- a review of the audiobook version narrated by Tom Hanks;
- book club questions for discussion;
- quotes from The Dutch House;
- bookclub food inspired by the Philadelphia setting; and
- articles for more about The Dutch House.
Is “The Dutch House” real?
Author Ann Patchett has confirmed “The Dutch House” does not exist in real life.
The Dutch House is a fictional mansion located in a suburb of Philadelphia called Elkins Park. In the novel, it was built by the VanHoebeek family from the Netherlands, but it was purchased by the narrator Danny Conroy’s father in 1946 as a surprise to the narrator’s mother. Danny and his sister, Maeve, were raised in The Dutch House.
Review / Summary of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
I’m always a sucker for a complex family drama, and The Dutch House adds a layer of nostalgia, which I also love. As a bonus, the cover art is exquisite and the audiobook narration by Tom Hanks gave me chills by the end!
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett was:
- my favorite novel of 2019;
- one of my favorite family sagas;
- one of my favorite books set in Philadelphia;
- one of my favorite character-driven novels;
- one of my favorite books to read in the Fall; and
- one of my favorite audiobooks of all time.
The Dutch House has earned the following accolades:
- Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize;
- New York Times Bestseller;
- Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick;
- A New York Times Book Review Notable Book;
- TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books of 2019; and
- Named one of the Best Books of the Year by: NPR, The Washington Post; O: The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Refinery29, and Buzzfeed.
Near the end of World War II, the lives of the Conroy family are forever changed when they move into The Dutch House outside of Philadelphia. This move sets into action a course of events in which the family is undone, and young siblings Danny and Maeve are ultimately left to fend for themselves (without spoiling any storylines).
As Danny narrates, Maeve essentially becomes a mother figure to him, while they navigate decades of life and often return to The Dutch House, tied inexplicably to their past no matter where life takes them.
The Dutch House tenderly explores themes of grief, wallowing in the past, forgiveness, parenthood and sibling love. And if you are doing a 50 States reading challenge, it makes a great pick for “Pennsylvania.”
Audiobook Review of The Dutch House
The audiobook version of The Dutch House, narrated by Tom Hanks, has earned the following accolade:
- 2020 Audie finalist – audiobook of the year and best male narrator.
Author Ann Patchett explained exactly how she landed such a coveted narrator:
It turns out I know Tom Hanks and so I asked him. I never thought he’d say yes, but he did. People have also asked if I gave him directions on how to read it, inflections and that sort of thing, to which I say ha-ha-ha. This is Tom Hanks we’re talking about. He knows what he’s doing. He did a spectacular job and made the book so much better than it actually is.– Ann Patchett
Tom Hanks exquisitely captures the sentimental spirit of the book and of narrator Danny, who tells the decades-long story of his family, but more precisely, of his sister Maeve, who is truly the heart of the story.
He brings exactly the same empathy and relatability to audiobook narration as he does to film acting. He’s the Tom Hanks we know and love in this audiobook.
The story so magnificently comes full circle that I had chills in the final minutes of the audiobook. I hope everyone decides to listen to this book, whether or not you have already read it.
Buying Tip: I listened to this book via a free trial from the Libro.fm app. It’s just as easy to use as other audiobook apps, but it supports independent bookstores. You can get your first month free too ($14.99/month for 1 audiobook credit thereafter; cancel anytime).
Book Club Questions for The Dutch House
Below are some book club discussion questions for The Dutch House that I personally wrote for you:
Discuss how Maeve’s and Danny’s parents influenced their lives.
What qualities made Maeve a good mother figure to Danny?
Discuss the unique cover art.
How did you picture The Dutch House in your head?
Is The Dutch House a positive or negative force in Maeve’s and Danny’s lives?
If you listened by audio, what did you think of Tom Hanks’ narration?
Was this Danny’s story or Maeve’s story? Discuss the point of view.
Danny tells the reader, “The story of my sister was the only one I was ever meant to tell.” Why do you think he believes this? Is he correct?
Should Maeve and Danny have forgiven their mother?
Why did Maeve and Danny remain so close?
How do Maeve and Danny process grief?
Why do you think Maeve and Danny often returned to The Dutch House?
What is the meaning of home, both in the novel, and in your opinion?
What did you think of the ending? How did it make you feel?
For more, read my 109 book club questions for discussion of fiction & nonfiction that can apply to ANY book.
Quotes from The Dutch House
Below are some quotes from The Dutch House that I curated based on their ability to make you think about the themes of the book and/or life in general:
But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, 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.
We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it.
Thinking about the past impeded my efforts to be decent in the present.
We were all so young, you know. We were still our best selves.
I had a mother who left when I was a child. I didn’t miss her. 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, the snow coming down in glittering sheets in the windows behind her, the windows as wide as a movie screen, the ship in the waves of the grandfather clock rocking the minutes away.
I leaned over and kissed them both on the forehead, one and then the other. It cost me nothing.
Book Club Food
Being a resident of Philadelphia, I got this! Below are popular Philadelphia based food items and products, as a nod to the setting of The Dutch House:
- Philly cheesesteak (I have my own recipe for a vegan “cheesesteak” if you need it!)
- Roast pork sandwich
- Soft pretzels (you can even make them as a book club activity!)
- Tomato pie (basically cheese-less pizza)
- WaWa food (a popular convenience store, known especially for its coffee)
- Peanut Chews
- Herr’s snack foods
- Yards beer
More About the Book
If you’re like me, a good book takes you straight to Google to learn more about it. Below are some of my favorite internet goodies about The Dutch House:
- Author Ann Patchett Answers Questions About The Dutch House
- #ReadWithJenna: Ann Patchett discusses The Dutch House on The Today Show
- The Guardian Interviews Ann Patchett About The Dutch House
- Ann Patchett Discusses The Dutch House on LitHub
- Ann Patchett Discusses The Dutch House on NPR
That concludes my review of The Dutch House with extras like book club questions, food, quotes, articles and more.
If you still need a copy…