The Dutch Wife and multiple stories – a review

I wrote and posted the review below about six years ago when I first read this book. I liked it so much, I’m reading it again. And so, I’m posting this again …

Cover of The Dutch Wife by Eric McCormack.

I just finished reading one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while. It’s called The Dutch Wife and it’s by Eric McCormack.

Any brief summary of the novel would be misleading. It involves a woman who marries once yet has two husbands (sort of) both of whom are named Rowland Vanderlinden. But let’s just say that’s not so much what the story is about as it is a jumping off place.

I suppose there are two key reasons why I liked this novel so much (beyond simply being a good story). McCormack does two things that I almost always love when they’re done well and both relate to style.

First, there is the tone. It is a very conversational narrative, particularly as the book opens with it’s first person narrator, but also in the way the various sections begin. It’s almost a written version of oral story-telling.

I think this is partly due to McCormack being what Alberto Manguel calls a “fabulist,” meaning someone who writes fables or legends. Don’t be misled by this, however. The story is very contemporary.

The second thing McCormack does, which relates to style and is again also related to the fabulist tradition, is to tell tales within tales within tales. There is an Arabian Nights quality to it. One narrator tells a story about another narrator who is telling the story of another narrator — kinda like that.

So in The Dutch Wife the initial narrator tells us the story of a man he meets who in turn tells him a story of his adventures which includes meeting others who tell him stories.

The art in all this lies in making compelling and engaging characters of all the narrators, making their stories interesting, and bringing all these stories, which initially seem disparate, together so they dovetail in the end and we see how it all relates.

Anyway … I love this sort of thing, and I loved The Dutch Wife.

McCormack also manages to write with a prose style that finds a nice balance. It is neither too erudite nor too simplistic; rather, it finesses a fine line between the two.

The novel is a great story. But it’s also a fun story. There is considerable humour in it but also a joy in narrative. As a reader and writer, this is an aspect of literature that always wins me over.

The Dutch Wife: