Podcast 283: Happier Podcast Book Club: Renowned Writer Ann Patchett Talks about Family, Forgiveness, and Memory in “The Dutch House”—and a Spotlight on Trevor Noah.

Spotlight on a Black Author

Trevor Noah is a comedian and host of the TV show The Daily Show on Comedy Central. He also wrote the brilliant memoir Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (AmazonBookshop). It was a #1 New York Times bestseller and was named as one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, NPR, and Booklist, among others.

It’s thought-provoking, hilarious, poignant, and deeply moving—all about growing up in apartheid South Africa, his relationship with his mother, his friendships, about so many things. If you like audiobooks, Elizabeth highly recommends the audio version.

Happier Podcast Book Club

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.

Last year, we launched our Happier Podcast Book Club, and today’s conversation is about the brilliant novel The Dutch House (Amazon) by Ann Patchett.


Ann Patchett is an internationally-bestselling author. I love her novels, such as Bel Canto (Amazon), Commonwealth (Amazon), and State of Wonder (Amazon); I also love her essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Amazon), and perhaps most of all, her memoir Truth and Beauty (Amazon), about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy. I love children’s books, and she’s also written children’s picture books and has one coming out in September, called Escape Goat (Amazon), illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (of Fancy Nancy fame).

She has won the Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. If all that isn’t enough to keep her busy, she also opened the beloved indie bookstore Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Dutch House has generated a huge amount of buzz. It was a bestseller, was named a Best Book of 2019 by NPR, Washington Post, Slate, Library Journal and others, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book.

The Dutch House is a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. It digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the “Dutch House” where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

Of course, we recorded this episode virtually. But at least we were able to see each other’s faces! 

We had a terrific conversation with Ann. We covered questions and topics such as:

  • Was the Dutch House based on a real house?
  • How the characters worked to control each other
  • Forgiveness and punishment
  • Whether it’s possible to see the past as it actually was (Ann says, “No”)
  • The depiction of Maeve as a type 1 diabetic (Elizabeth is also a type 1 diabetic)
  • Whether Maeve and Mr. Otterson were having an affair (yes)
  • Danny’s obliviousness
  • Why the choice of viewpoint is so crucial for shaping the story
  • The meaning of the ending
  • The theme of voluntary poverty, and what it means to abandon everything to pursue a spiritual life

I mention George Orwell’s essay “Reflections on Gandhi.”

Astonishing reveal: Ann Patchett wrote an entirely different, finished draft of this book, and tossed the whole thing when she decided it was no good.

Ann’s Try This at Home: Ann suggests, “Forgive yourself all.” When we’re trying to do creative work, what we achieve will never live up to what’s in our imagination—but we forgive ourselves all, and keep trying. “Every time I go to work, I am confronted by my lack of intelligence and my lack of talent. If I never went to work, I would not have to be confronted by those things. But I do, I go, I look, I break my heart, and then I have something.”

She emphasizes that it’s not possible to edit and write at the same time.

Remember: Whenever it is and wherever you are, there’s always a book waiting for you.


  • Do you love audiobooks? My bestselling book The Happiness Project is now on sale for Audible members.
  • If you are working on habits, click here to download my “Checklist for Habit Change.” This one-page chart will help you deploy the 21 strategies for habit change, as you work on a crucial key habit that you want to master. If you want to learn more about the 21 habit strategies, read my book Better Than Before—available everywhere books are sold, including paperback, e-book and audiobook.




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