Have you chosen Ann Patchett’s 2019 novel The Dutch House for your book club? Here are ten The Dutch House book club questions and a reading guide to get the conversation going.
Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House is the book everyone is talking about right now. And I know this because when I visited my family for the holidays, more than one family member came up to me and asked if I’d read it yet. Word evidently spread over the end of the year, because when I went back to work, everyone was talking about this book there as well.
So what did I do? I decided to give into the hype and purchase the audiobook version of this novel. Several people told me this was a great audiobook (have I mentioned everyone is talking about this book?). Even better, America’s dad Tom Hanks narrates it. I sat back to listen to the novel and ended up finishing it over the course of two days. Now, I have thoughts. I have questions. And I’m here to share them with you in the hopes your book club will find them helpful!
The Dutch House: A Reading Guide
HarperCollins published Ann Patchett’s eighth novel, The Dutch House, on September 24, 2019. The novel tells the story of Danny and Maeve Conroy over the course of five decades. The siblings are raised together in the Dutch House by their father and their stepmother Andrea. But when Danny and Maeve’s father dies, Andrea forces the two out of the house. Left with no one else to care for them, Danny and Maeve spend the rest of their lives looking after one another in various ways. Danny Conroy narrates the novel as an adult looking back on his life, his sister, and The Dutch House.
Setting is very important in this novel, which takes place in Elkins Park, Philadelphia. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Patchett explains that she set the novel here because she wanted a place that was close in proximity to New York, and she spent some time in Elkins Park when she was a student at Sarah Lawrence College.
In the same interview, Patchett discusses the themes that she writes about in all of her novels, including The Dutch House: “I write a lot about wealth and poverty. I write a lot about class. And I write a lot about race, although not in this book. I think that for every writer, there are just certain things that obsess you, and you keep coming back.”
How did these themes play out in the novel? And what other things obsessed you as you read the story of Maeve, Danny, and the house from which they were banished? Let’s talk through it.
Obviously, some spoilers to follow.
10 The Dutch House Book Club Questions
- Why was the story narrated from Danny’s perspective rather than Maeve’s? How might the story have been different if told from Maeve’s point of view?
- There are many descriptions of the Dutch House throughout the novel. In her interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ann Patchett says that while many people have told her the descriptions of the house are very vivid, she truly believes she left a lot of the house up to the individual reader’s imagination. What was your image of the Dutch House? Does it differ from other members of your book club?
- How would you describe the relationship between Danny and Maeve? Why do you think they remain so close throughout the novel?
- What sort of influence did Danny and Maeve’s father, Cyril Conroy, have over them? How would you characterize Cyril?
- How do Danny and Maeve feel about their mother Elna? What sort of effect does her leaving have on them? What about her return? How are Danny and Maeve affected differently by Elna’s departure and return? And why?
- Many of reviews of The Dutch House have compared the story to a fairytale: abandoned children, a creepy old house, and evil stepmother…is this a fair comparison? If The Dutch House does have fairytale elements, what purpose does that serve in the story?
- In the aforementioned quotation from Ann Patchett, the author reflects on her obsession with wealth, poverty, and class issues. Those issues are obviously at play in this novel, but to what end? What do you think Patchett is trying to say about wealth, poverty, and class in America?
- After their stepmother kicks them out of the Dutch House, both Danny and Maeve remain obsessed with their childhood home. For instance, throughout the years, they often sit in a car outside of the house and just look at it. What explains their obsessions with this house? And how do their feelings about the house and about the meaning of “home” change with the passing years?
- How did you feel about the jumps in time in the novel? Did the places where the narration moved forward in time make sense? Did it seem necessary for this novel to span such a large expanse of time in these characters’ lives? If the story focused on a smaller period of time, would it change the way we viewed the themes of this novel?
- Did the book end the way you thought it might end when Danny’s daughter May buys the Dutch House? Does the Dutch House take on new meaning for Danny under this new ownership? Did it take on new meaning for you as the reader?
The Dutch House Book Club Questions: Further Reading
What to do now that you’ve finished reading The Dutch House? Aside from the previously mentioned interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ann Patchett has given a lot of great interviews about this book that could help enrich your book club discussion. Some of my favorites: this interview with Time, and this one with The Guardian.
Looking for what book to read after this? Ann Patchett herself gave some great recommendations based on Book Riot’s very own Read Harder Challenge. I know, cool, right?
Or maybe you want more stuff to talk about at your The Dutch House book club meeting? Here you go: a list of book club discussion questions for when you’re running out of things to say.
Have fun discussing this amazing book, Book Clubbers!