The Dutch House-Anne Patchett, author; Tom Hanks, narrator
The audiobook of The Dutch House is read by Tom Hanks. He reads it in one voice so it is often hard to delineate characters, but he allows the story to be told without making himself a character in the novel, as so many narrators do when they either over emote or attempt to be more important in their interpretation than the author intended. Still, at times, it was difficult to follow the narrative because the character remained unidentified and indistinguishable until the dialogue moved on.
The novel is a detailed account of a house and its relationship to the families that dwelt within it. It is about the relationship between the residents, as well, the parents and children, the siblings and step-siblings, the mother and step-mother, the generations that followed, one after another. The book takes place over five decades, but it is hard to tell that until the end.
As the history of the house and the families plays out, the personalities of the characters comes to light. Their foibles and their strengths are revealed. The way their life choices resonate throughout the years, affecting the lives of the characters that come after, as well, is well illustrated. Sometimes the characters seem bland, but their reactions seem authentic, in many ways, as they will seem familiar to the reader who has found him or herself in similar situations. The author shows insight into the emotional responses and the depth of the descriptions makes the reader understand the reasoning behind the character’s behavior, even if they might disagree with the choices or actions taken.
Because the timeline is often sporadic, interspersed with anecdotal stories of the character’s lives, it is difficult to tell where and when an event described took place, or how many years had passed, until some additional fact was revealed. Perhaps a print copy would have been easier to follow than an audio.
The book clearly exposes the differences in the way people treat their children and the cruelty of some step-parents. It illustrates how greed and grudges control lives beyond their own and how history often repeats itself. It is about motherhood; it is about compassion and the choices in life that we make that will ultimately have an effect, not only on ourselves, but on others as well, down through the generations.
While some times, the author truly gets inside the heads of the characters, showing deep insight into their feelings and behavior, emotions and thoughts that we all sometimes experience, the pace was sometimes slower than watching water boil. Sometimes it felt as if some characters moved on while others stood still and seemed not to age. For most of the book I was confused as to when it took place and how many years had actually passed.
As history began to repeat itself and the past left its mark on the future, the reader learns that some dreams were fulfilled by succeeding generations and others, while not nightmares, were the sad results of mistaken choices. Were the sins of the father visited upon the sons?
The reader will wonder if the choice of a biological mother to abandon her children is worse than the choice of a stepmother who abandons her stepchildren, even when one seems to be motivated by a purity of soul and need to do good and the other seems to be motivated by greed and jealousy alone. What is the father’s role in all of this? Does he ignore his own responsibilities?
The house may act as the foil, but the family dynamics are what develops the story.