Author Ann Patchett opens up about the inspiration behind 'The Dutch House'

"I’m just grateful that people will take a chance on this book,” Patchett told TODAY.
Heidi Ross
/ Source: TODAY
By Stephanie Larratt

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For the month of October, the Read With Jenna book club has been reading “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett. With thousands of comments on Instagram and Facebook, it's safe to say we're loving this pick!

“I’m very grateful,” Patchett told TODAY. “I really, really have such a palpable sense of what it means to ask people for their time and I’m just grateful that people will take a chance on this book.”

In her suspense-filled seventh novel, the renowned author chronicles the lives and unshakable bond of two siblings, Danny and Maeve Conroy. The story is set into motion after a lucky investment launches their father, Cyril Conroy, from poverty to wealth allowing him to purchase a majestic, abandoned mansion, affectionately known as the Dutch house, for his family to inhabit.

"The Dutch House," by Ann Patchett

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The phrase "money doesn’t buy happiness" could not ring truer for the Conroy family. Along with their sudden wealth comes misfortune that sets the course for Danny and Maeve’s lives.

In the novel, Danny and Maeve’s mother struggles with the family's new station. After her best efforts to adjust to a life being served by maids and cooks in the ornate Dutch House, she abandons the family to serve the poor in India.

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Exploring the theme of wealth was one of the things that inspired Patchett to write “The Dutch House.”

"In this moment ... it feels more and more like we are in a massive celebration of wealth," Patchett explained. To write a character who rejects wealth was part of Patchett's plan.

In doing so, she creates an interesting dichotomy for the reader to consider. Was the mother’s desire to serve the poor a selfless sacrifice or a shellfish abandonment of her family.

Danny and Maeve also grapple with this question as they grow up in a motherless home. The choice their mother made forever altered the way they grew up and continue to live their lives.

Another important element of “The Dutch House” for Patchett was Danny and Maeve’s relationship with each other.

“When I was writing ‘Commonwealth,’ I found that the most interesting relationship to me was between one of the stepbrothers and the stepsisters,” said Patchett, “I thought OK the next time I really want to write a book that is just about a brother and a sister.”

The sibling bond between Danny and Maeve is in many ways a beautiful love story — but it's not without its share of issues. They support each other when the rest of the world leaves them to fend for themselves, but they also enable each other to cling to the misfortunes of their past in a way that impacts the decisions they make in the future.

While Patchett didn’t write the novel with the intention of leaving her readers with a message, she was pleasantly surprised to hear that the book caused people to reflect on their pain and leave behind some of the things they were holding onto from their own childhoods.

As one reader put it best on a recent Instagram post, "I wish I could read 'The Dutch House' again for the first time!"

We couldn't agree more!

For past #ReadWithJenna book club picks, you can read the announcements for her March pick, April pick, May pick, June pick, July pick, August pick and September pick. Also check out our Read With Jenna page.

To stay involved all month long, be sure to follow us on Instagram (don't forget to tag your photos with the hashtag #ReadWithJenna), join our Read With Jenna Facebook group and follow along on Goodreads to continue the conversation about "The Dutch House."