It is a strange feeling to gaze at a familiar house, a one-time home, knowing that someone else now has the keys. In Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, the siblings Danny and Maeve are consumed by this sense of dispossessed longing. Losing their parents at a young age, and exiled from the house by their stepmother, Andrea, they return month on month, year on year, to stare up at their old home, seeking out silhouettes in the windows.
‘Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?’ Danny asks Maeve, from their parked car across the street. This is the question that drives Patchett’s eighth novel. The object of their obsession is an eccentric mansion in Philadelphia, with six bedrooms on the second floor and a ballroom on the third. It’s a building full of curios, gilded cornices and portraits of other people’s ancestors.
‘Habit is a funny thing,’ Danny admits. ‘You might think you understand it, but you can never exactly see what it looks like when you’re doing it.’ Trauma traps people in cycles of return. Patchett’s characters return hungrily to the source of their suffering: the original fall from