I did not find the book entirely credible
Beoordeeld in het Verenigd Koninkrijk op 24 november 2019
The handsome and characterful house had been built by a Dutch couple called VanHoebeek in 1922 when it was in the open country just outside Philadelphia, and it had been bought by Cyril Conroy in 1946 who also had a lot of other properties he rented out. He was a Catholic and lived there with his wife Elna and two children, Maeve and, seven years younger, Danny. Although Mr Conroy said that he had bought the house for his wife, Elna identified with poor and felt a mission to minister to them. She hated the house, and had gone to India, leaving the family when Danny, the narrator, was just three; and Maeve had looked after her brother. As Danny grew older, he monitored Maeve’s diabetes whenever he could. They were devoted to each other. Maeve was aided by two splendid housekeepers, Sandy and Jocelyn, and initially by Fiona, a nanny they called Fluffy, who had worked for the Van Hoebeckes. Fluffy had been dismissed because, in a fit of irritation, she had hit little Danny with a wooden spoon, so hard that it left a scar near his eye.
At the age of 49, Mr Doyle married again: Andrea, a Protestant of 31 with two young daughters of her own, Norma and Bright, respectively three and five years younger than Danny, whom she brought into the house. The little girls took to Danny and Maeve, though Andrea did not. She was a Protestant whereas the Conroys were Catholics. It was not a good marriage. Mr Conroy once said that Andrea had married him because she wanted the house. Perhaps he married her because, unlike his previous wife, she shared his love for the house and its contents. Andrea almost always got her way: her husband rarely stood up to her wishes. Maeve and Danny had disliked Andrea from the start, and the dislike was mutual. Andrea also constantly found reasons to criticize Sandy and Jocelyn. When Maeve was away at school in New York, Andrea reorganized the house, moved her eldest daughter into Maeve’s room and when Maeve was home of the holidays, she was moved into a small room up in the attic. So she hardly ever stayed at home – living in her dorm in New York during the holidays or staying with friends. When she graduated, she returned to Philadelphia, got a job helping to run a business and lived in a little apartment instead of in the Dutch House.
Mr Conroy died in 1963, when Danny was 15. Andrea never forgave Danny and Maeve for having told her the news only after they had been to their father dead in the hospital, and for having arranged for their father to be buried in a Catholic cemetery instead of a Protestant one.
Mr Conroy had left the house to her, not to his own children. All he had done for Danny and Andrea’s children was to set up a trust for their education through high school and college. He had also made Andrea a partner in his business. Maeve and Danny offered to take over running the Conroy business: Maeve had accounting experience in a firm she worked for, and Danny had always accompanied his father when he went to collect the rents. But not only did Andrea refuse (she would sell the entire business), but she asked Maeve to take Danny away from the house, with immediate effect: she would not raise her stepson. He moved into Maeve’s little apartment. Andrea also dismissed Sandy and Jocelyn without notice.
Danny eventually went to Choate as a boarder and then to the Columbia Medical School in New York, though he had no intention to become a doctor and after his graduation went into real estate, as his father had done. Maeve will do his accounts.
Every two or three weeks Danny went to visit Maeve in Philadelphia. And, every couple of months or so, he and Maeve would drive up to the Dutch House and look at it for 15 minutes or so. They were still doing it twenty-seven years after Andrea had turned them out. They never went in.
Much of this part is about Danny’s relationship with Celeste Norcross, a girl he met on a train in 1965 and whom, after a lot of ups and downs, he would eventually marry. They have two children, May and Kevin. Maeve does not approve of Celeste, and Celeste resents the close relationship between the siblings.
Fluffy resurfaces, and from her Danny learns that his mother was back in the United States. When Danny and Celeste have their first child, Fluffy was engaged to be May’s nanny, and, through her, Danny learns a great deal more about the past - not only about his parents (Fluffy had had an affaire with Danny’s father), but also about the VanHoebeeks.
At the beginning of Part Three, Maeve had a serious heart attack and was in hospital. When Danny went to the hospital, he saw that their mother Elna, now in her mid-seventies, was there. Fluffy had told Elna about the heart-attack. Maeve was delighted to see her, 47 years after Elna had left them: she had always missed her mother, and forgave her long absence. But Danny, who had never known her, could not forgive her, because her departure had led to Andrea evicting him from the Dutch House. When Maeve went home from hospital, Elna went to live with her. Danny was frigid with her whenever he drove over to see Maeve. Only when his beloved sister told him that Danny owed it to her to be friendly towards Elna did he resolve to try.
And then one day Elna, who was driving with her Maeve and Danny in the car, drove over to the Dutch House; but, instead of just looking at it from the other side of the road, she drove right up to the house. Danny, at 45, must have looked like his father, for Andrea recognized him as such. She was suffering from some kind of dementia, and her daughter Norma had moved in to look after her. Andrea felt comfortable with Elna, and Norma wanted more help. Unbelievably, Elna moved into the Dutch House, and a fortnight later Maeve died. Elna stayed in the Dutch House after Andrea died. I did not like the ending: it was all rather abrupt and forced.
I am never quite happy with books in which there is too much back and forth in time; and this feature is particularly irritating in this book because there are not enough dates, so it is often very difficult to know at what stage in Danny’s life various episodes happen. And although many of the characters are well drawn, I also found much of the book quite hard to believe.
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