This is the first book I’ve ever read whose text and cover captivated me equally. It’s as though the author and the artist were the same person. As I read, I kept turning back to the cover for some extra perspective on the past that so sharply defines Mauve and Danny Conroy, the central characters. As their story draws you in, so does the exquisite painting whose execution is so pivotal in their lives.
Mauve and Danny are the children of Cyril Conroy, a post-World War II landlord who surprises his wife one day with a dazzling gift: a museum-like mansion still containing relics of its former owners. His pride in rising from humble soldier to successful investor blinds him to the deleterious effects of the house on his family. Mauve and Danny are unable to recover from subsequent events, especially their mother’s unexplained disappearance and their taciturn father’s remarriage to a scheming younger woman. Everything that follows grows from their obsession with the injustice this house represents.
Over the course of many years, the edifice retains a hypnotic grip on Mauve and Danny, who park outside it occasionally to reminisce and speculate about things they have never understood. Even their ex-nanny and maids cannot extricate themselves from its spell, or from the children they served. This common thread serves to bind them in both love and conflict.
Mauve and Danny’s devotion to each other is the essence of the story, and that’s what I enjoyed most. Disagreements, quarrels, even their opposing reactions to a critical event late in the narrative cannot separate them. Otherwise, their tragedy would be unbearable. I think that’s why I like the cover so much. I will always remember Mauve best as the strong-willed older sister posing before a wall of fluttering swallows, and the sad circumstances which made her the object of the painting.
Reluctantly, I deduct one rating star from The Dutch House for occasional foul language. Otherwise, I loved every word of it.