Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Published July 3rd 2014 by Picador
There are three reasons I bought The Miniaturist. It was cheap, has a lovely cover, and has a historical setting in Amsterdam – finally a book that features my country!
I didn’t start with any particularly high expectations, because historical novels aren’t necessarily my favourite kind of books, and the average rating on Goodreads isn’t all that great either. I did quickly fall in love with the characters of The Miniaturist. I was intrigued by the home life of Nella and how she deals with being swooped away from anything she knows on the countryside and surviving in an Amsterdam she has only heard of.
The Amsterdam Ms Burton describes is fabulous. I really enjoyed the way Nella visits places I have visited in Amsterdam myself. The author really captured the feel of the bustling sixteenth century city, and I felt she did sufficient research. The element I wasn’t much enamoured with was the plot.
I feel like this book would have been much better if it had kept its focus on the Brandt household and the social struggles, rather than introducing a weird subplot featuring the miniaturist. Every time a miniature arrived, I felt like the story was slipping. There was simply nothing interesting about it. All of the miniaturist scenes felt very deus ex machina, like some divine intervention that didn’t even serve a purpose in the end.
About halfway, I lost interest in the book. The pages that so quickly turned when I started, all of a sudden became a slog. The final impression The Miniaturist has left on me is that this was a good idea, a book with great promise, but one that could have been improved if it had had a different focus. Maybe if it had paid more attention to Nella herself, or the 17th century society in Amsterdam, anything deeper really, I would have enjoyed The Miniaturist more.
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?
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