Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

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EBOOK; 563 P.
ECCO, 2014
SOURCE: PURCHASED

”There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .“

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand—and fear—the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

The Miniaturist was on everyone’s lips last year. It was the Waterstones’ Book of the Year and almost every book blogger under the sun read it – most of them also giving positive reviews. For me the year 2015 has been a real feast of historical fiction which means that a novel set in the 17th century Amsterdam with abundance of historically accurate details seemed like a right book to be read during the Christmas holidays. Moreover, I’ve been curious as to why this book, which has been called an international success, has not yet reached the shores of Finland. Usually these types of bestsellers appear in translation within year or so, but I haven’t yet heard that any of the Finnish publishers would have grabbed The Miniaturist. Perhaps it is “too Dutch”?

The story follows the 18-year-old Petronella (Nella for short) who has been married off to a wealthy Amsterdam merchant almost twice her age. Nella’s rosy notions of married life crash with the harsh reality as she finds herself stranded in her town house, accompanied only by her husband’s spinsterly sister, a gossiping maid named Cornelia and the mysterious dark-skinned manservant Otto. Instead of freedom and power, Nella feels trapped in her new home whose inhabitants seem to carry more that just a few chose secrets. Her husband appears to almost avoid his home, the sister is bundle of contradictions, and there’re steps and whispers in the corridors at night. The mystery of her new family is, however, heightened by the constant arrival of unsolicited parcels from the miniaturist Nella has commissioned to furnish her miniature house – these pieces are both surprisingly accurate and hauntingly foretelling.

Due to all the hype and positive reviews, I had high expectations going into this novel and, to be honest, they were not fully met. The narrative style of The Miniaturist is quite elusive, not so much navigating the murky waters of the mysterious household as simply giving a sense of the environment. Jessie Burton is a master in writing descriptions and many have praised her expertise in pulling the reader into the story. If you enjoy sensory writing, this is the book for you. I, unfortunately, never felt truly dazzled by the story’s magic. I could appreciate the writing, but in general I prefer well-structured and complex plots over fantastical writing. The plot of The Miniaturist is still a fascinating one, and once I got into the story, it was a very entertaining read with plenty of twists and turns. Overall, the book is a strong debut novel and I look forward to reading more of Burton’s work in the future. I would recommend the book to historical fiction lovers as well as readers who enjoy the Gothic side of mystery. However, if you don’t enjoy open-ended stories, you might want to give this one a miss.

3.5/5

Amsterdam: Where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder.

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4 thoughts on “Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

    • Yay, I’m not the only one! 😀 After finishing the book, I too felt a bit baffled by the buzz it had going on, because I didn’t find it exceptionally good in any way. Maybe it’s just one of those hit-or-miss type of books?

  1. That’s a shame that it wasn’t as dazzling as you were expecting- I’m still looking forward to reading it and seeing if it lives upto the hype. (Also I probably would have bought it regardless- cos that cover is so pretty!)

    • Yes, I suggest that you do read it if you’re interested. It’s perhaps one of those “not really my thing” type of books, so you might actually enjoy it much more. And yes, the cover is a stunner!

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