Ann Patchett’s Pulitzer-nominated novel begins and ends in an art deco mansion in a Philadelphia suburb. The former residence of a Dutch family who sold up after going bankrupt, it is now home to the Conroy family, headed by the self-made property magnate Cyril Conroy. Spanning half a century, the story is told from the perspective of Danny, son of Cyril and younger brother of clever, caring Maeve. Danny recalls how their mother, Elna, left when he was three without explanation; later he learns that she loathed the house and its ostentatious grandness, and moved to India to help the poor. The children’s lives are upended once more with the arrival of Andrea, Cyril’s new bride, who proclaims the house to be “a work of art”. When Cyril dies suddenly from a heart attack, Andrea orders Danny and Maeve to pack up their things and leave.
Tom Hanks is the narrator, bringing his customary warmth and sensitivity to a multi-generational tale that has shades of Hansel and Gretel, plus a dash of Cinderella. Despite the sombre themes of loss and familial strife, Hanks teases out Danny’s dry humour – “He loved buildings the way that boys loved dogs,” he says of his father – and his bemusement at losing his home. Once a year following their expulsion, the siblings park outside the Dutch House where they smoke and share stories from their past, such as when Cyril brought their mother to the house for the first time. “He’d bought the most beautiful house in Pennsylvania,” Maeve recalls, “and his wife was looking at him like he’d shot her.”
The Dutch House is available from Bloomsbury, 9hr 53min
Lessons in Chemistry
Bonnie Garmus, Penguin Audio, 11hr 56min
Miranda Raison reads this smart and funny tale set in the 1960s in which a female scientist becomes the quietly subversive star of a TV cooking show.
Patrick Radden Keefe, Picador, 15hr 28min
The journalist and author takes listeners on a tour of the world’s most notorious killers, crooks and grifters in his compendium of articles from the New Yorker.