I don’t listen to a lot of audiobooks, but as I continue to step up the volume of books that I read I am finding Audible to be a useful and, more importantly, fun way to sneak an extra book into my roster. Towards the end of last year I read The Handmaids Tale this way and two weeks into 2020 I’ve got another one in the bank.
The Dutch House is a highly rated novel published in 2019, written by Ann Patchett, and read by the one and only Tom Hanks.
Yes, that Tom Hanks.
The narrator’s voice in this story comes from Danny Conroy, and his tale is one which spans his whole life. At the centre of it all is the titular abode, purchased by Danny’s father at the end of the Second World War as a means of celebrating and announcing a flourishing real estate empire that he began through a single, shrewd, and extremely fortuitous investment. The house is a lavish art piece in Philadelphia, and is as much a character in the events of the Conroy family life as any individual member. It drives Danny’s mother away, and draws in an unwelcome step mother who eventually banishes Danny and his sister, Maeve, from the home.
No matter how far Danny and Maeve go, no matter what they do or what success they find in love or education or business, the Dutch House calls to them throughout their lives.
The key to the success of the story is the depth of it’s characters. Danny may be the narrator but the story is as much about Maeve. She is acerbic and sharp. She is completely and utterly believable. This is Patchett’s greatest victory. When focusing on characters who orbit the upper echelons of society I sometimes find it difficult to empathise with their issues, but Patchett creates a magical connection between Danny, Maeve, and the House, which means that their place in society is not a barrier to how much you care about them as people. The story is not about how lavish the house is, how extravagantly they live, or how petty their squabbles are. It is about the nature of things. About time. Love. Family. Patchett imbues our sibling leads with both with charm and wit, and from the off the reader is easily invested in their fate. When Andrea, the evil stepmother of this modern fairy-tale, arrives on the scene she brings with her a sense of dread because the status quo of the family unit – of Danny and Maeve and the House – is so lovable that the inevitable disruption which kicks the real story into gear is lamentable.
In a good way.
For those looking to listen rather than look, Tom Hanks embodies Danny’s narrating voice beautifully. A voice on the level of Woody, Forrest Gump, and Walt Disney, threatens to be distracting in its familiarity, but there is something reassuring about Hanks’ performance. It lures you into a false sense of security. When disaster strikes in Hanks’ soft, comfortable tones, it strikes hard and heart-breaking.
The combination of Patchett’s writing and Hanks reading is something quite special.
In a word, The Dutch House is Masterful.
I gave it 5-STARS on GOODREADS.