Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
2013  427 pages (eBook)  Picador

The Miniaturist is a fairly recent discovery that caught my eye due to it being set in seventeenth century Amsterdam. It’s no secret that I love historical fiction set during this period and reading a story based in the Netherlands made a welcome change from the novels set in England and France that I’ve read of late. I read The Miniaturist when I was on holiday in Spain a couple of weeks ago and whilst not your traditional beach-read kind of book, it was a very pleasant experience.

The story follows Nella Oortman, an eighteen-year-old country girl sent to Amsterdam to marry Johannes Brandt, an older but wealthy merchant. While Nella is eager to prove herself a good wife, her new husband is kind yet distant and his sharp-tongued sister Marin still acts as mistress of the house. But when Johannes presents Nella with a cabinet replica of their home as a wedding gift, Nella enlist the help of a miniaturist to furnish her gift and the tiny, real life counterparts begin to reveal secrets about the enigmatic Brandt household. Nella’s obsession with this mysterious artist leads to a series of events that set her new life on a dangerous path, and it seems only the miniaturist can see the fate that awaits them.

I confess I didn’t really know much about the story beyond the basic plot when first I started reading it, and I found it went on a different route than I initially anticipated. I don’t really know what I was expecting but the overall result I enjoyed more than I thought I would. The character of the miniaturist is elusive and uncanny so there are elements of magical realism coursing throughout, but the actual story is very much focused on family and emotion and Nella trying to understand the details of her new life. Nothing is ever as it seems and it’s quite creepy, yet interesting, to see how the tiny objects the miniaturist sends to Nella foretell the outcome of events.

On top of that you’ve got the oppressive and pious Amsterdam society – the Dutch Golden Age may have been one of prosperity but it was a harsh, unforgiving place. Johannes’ financial success sparks the jealously of many and there are challenges in Nella’s married life which she did not bargain for. It’s a cruel time and very much a dog-eat-dog world and I think it was the realism of the story that really shocked me – I wasn’t expecting the novel to be filled with such harsh truths and bittersweet consequences, but this is why I liked it. There’s obviously the slight magical element running through the story which binds everything together, but everything else – relationships, emotions, society – all paints a bigger picture which made the story stay with me after I finished it.

I feel as though I can’t really say much more without giving anything away. If you do decide to give this a read you might find you’re able to piece together certain things as you go but for me to say them outright would only ruin the story. Also, maybe it’s because of the Amsterdam setting but The Miniaturist reminded me of Girl with a Pearl Earring – very similar mood and feel so if you enjoyed the latter I’d definitely recommend this. An easy yet pleasant read which is surprisingly captivating. 

Overall rating: 
4.5 stars

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