The Dutch House: Ann Patchett’s career-defining masterpiece

Book review: Author’s delicate portrayal of ordinary devastations is arresting

Author Ann Patchett. Photograph:  Jesse Dittmar/Getty

Author Ann Patchett. Photograph: Jesse Dittmar/Getty

Author of eight critically acclaimed novels, the American author Ann Patchett is candid about the writerly obsession her work repeatedly returns to – how will a group of strangers cope when they are thrown together to survive? In Bel Canto, the novel for which Patchett won the Orange Prize, the Pen/Faulkner award and for which she is perhaps best known, it was a hostage situation. In The Dutch House, the circumstances are closer to home in the form of a blended family, a concept Patchett is very familiar with from her own childhood when her mother’s second marriage invited four step-siblings into Patchett’s world.

Since early advance copies of The Dutch House went into circulation an excitable buzz has been building. Cited as the novel Patchett was born to write, her best novel yet, and contender for book of the year, the hype bar has set expectations so high that it creates unreasonable expectations for the reader. And yet, Patchett’s novel rises to the occasion with what appears to be effortless grace.

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