I have grown up and grown old day by day, year by year with Maeve and Danny. I have watched an ordinary but deeply committed and beautiful relationship between two siblings through life.
I have not read many stories about siblings and how they love and support each other through thick and thin. Little Women is probably the closest but obviously Little Women is about sisters. (The Makioka Sisters is a novel you can read in comparison, also about four sisters, but set in post-war Japan.) Just quickly: this post contains spoilers. I can’t quite review this without telling them.
What attracted me to continue reading past the first two chapters (offered by the Kindle sample) was Maeve. She mothered Danny when she was just a child herself. She protected him with all the love and strength a young child can muster. She filled in all the gaps in his life when their mother left them behind and disappeared altogether. She was strong, even tough sometimes only for Danny’s sake. She’ll do anything for him. She wants the best for him.
The Dutch House was where the siblings lived. Part one was a bit like a Cinderella story with a twist. The lonely father with two daughters married an evil step mother. The father died. The step mother turned the dead man’s children out of their home. Now Maeve and Danny lost their mother, father, every penny and home, the Dutch House, a palace in a dream. Maeve continued in her guardian role, putting all her life in it. There was a very short exchange between Maeve and Danny at the end of part one which shows the strong bond between them. Danny was sulking about going to boarding school alone,
“Why don’t you cut to the chase and send me to an orphanage?”
“You don’t qualify,” she said.
“I don’t have parents.”
“You have me,” she said. “Disqualified.”
I cannot understand their mother, her coming and going, the reasons for her doing these things. In this sense, I’m completely with Danny. She’s absent for Danny in his life. She’s absent for me the reader in most of the narrative. So when she came back and took Maeve away, I can completely understand Danny’s feeling and feel his anger, although it’s childish and selfish – Maeve has always loved me most, now she loves this strange woman more than me.
Chapter by chapter, without me realising the magnificent child in the painting (which is the front cover of the book) has got grey hair and she’s getting old. She’s the single most important person in Danny’s life but she’s just an ordinary person, a mere mortal and eventually she died.
It’s not a thriller or a page-turner that packs in a lot of twists and turns. In many ways, the events in this book throughout Danny’s life were all quite ordinary, insignificant and random. Just like events in real life. There is no Cinderella being restored to a princess or any happy ending. Maeve’s death was shocking and hard to accept. It’s a book to read slowly and taste the flavour of relationship and life.
The Dutch House stayed beautiful and dream-like after they left, which was hard to imagine. As one of the siblings asked, “Does the house not grieve?” Because surely the house was lit up like a crystal ball for them. But no, the house was a shell and it chained them up for years and years. Did Maeve ever let it go?