I bought The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton with a few other books when I finished my last read, I threw a bunch in my online basket to get the offer on free shipping. I had seen this book in the shop at the train station many times, when it popped up to buy I read a short extract and found myself quite intrigued as to what happened next.
The novel was inspired by Petronella Oortman’s dollhouse now at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
The book is set in the Amsterdam, in the 1860’s where Dutch trading was booming and 18 year old Petronella (Nella) has just married the middle-age trader Johannes Brandt. She arrives at her new home and her husband is absent, instead she is greeted by his stern and pious sister, the overly-familiar maid Cornelia, and former slave turned man-servant Otto.
When her husband returns he is distant but presents her with a present; a doll’s house which is a replica for their own. Nella orders some miniature items to furnish it but the mysterious miniaturist sends tiny replicas of the items and people in the house.
As Nella begins to learnt the truth about her new husband she has to decide whether to stay with her new family or return home. And then it all goes a bit crazy at the end.
I found the book compelling and easy to read, not the chore of some of my previous reads. The tension in the house and the anguish of the family was interesting, and I actually wanted to know what was going on. However, the stuff with the Miniaturist felt a bit like it was tacked on at the end to give the book an odd hook. Whilst Nella was going through some serious ‘stuff’ she was still wondering what the Miniaturist was doing or going to like a teenager with a crush.
I think perhaps Burton was trying to keep the mystery by not fully explaining the motivations of some of the characters actions but at times it just made things seem unbelievable. I feel like I didn’t know enough about life in 19th century Amsterdam to fully understand why certain events were significant.
It’s also quite weird because the book takes place over the course of 10 months and much of the juicy revelations have already been revealed by month 3 with some of the others seemingly a little obvious to me. It seemed like to too short a time frame. I guess the point is that, for Nella, her fortunes and future change incredibly quickly but for me it seemed she hadn’t changed that much despite saying she had.
A good read, especially on holiday or the bus, but not earth shattering. See ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell for a better tale of Dutch history.