The Miniaturist – Jess Burton
Rating 5+ stars
‘There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed …On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways …Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall? Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, Jessie Burton’s magnificent debut novel The Miniaturist is a story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.’
So last year this book was everywhere, in every bookshop I visited it was such a huge thing and the advertisements seemed to spill out all over town (this isn’t something that happens that often round my end, the only other one I can think of is Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy where there was an advert up in the Debenhams centre for what seemed like years)
So The Miniaturist, I resisted reading it for a long time – no matter how much it caught my eye – I’m often hugely disappointed when I read ‘Bestsellers’ and I kept talking myself out of it. For a start off it’s not really my genre (after reading it I don’t think it quite fits into any one genre, there’s elements of so many different subjects in there it was just staggering) and from the advertising I got the feeling it was going to end up a little gimmicky – the miniaturist strand of the story didn’t seem to fit to me. In the end though I just kept seeing it everywhere, I was consciously trying to broaden my reading and the cover was so beautiful. I eventually got it on offer when I was buying several other sale books and a couple of days ago I gave in and decided to give it a go.
Then I read it in one sitting.
I was a little hesitant at the beginning and unsure what to make of Marin and Johannes in particular, but as I followed Nella getting acquainted with her new world I became increasingly fascinated by it. By the end of the book I loved the whole household and in particular I thought Marin was so well done. Out of that small family of five there was no character that felt underdeveloped – indeed all of the supporting characters outside of the Brandt household were also intriguing and well fleshed out.
The inclusion of the miniaturist was not gimmicky at all and I loved the hints of the larger life she was leading outside of her involvement in Nella’s. We only ever really hear the story from her point of view in the prologue. Short as it is I kept going back to the prologue at different points in the book and seeing something different everytime.
As a rule, whilst I love historical fiction I read it sparingly and incredibly selectively because in so much of it the period ends up feeling like set dressing rather than something fully immersive. Not so here. The city of Amsterdam sings from the page. I’m not a city girl – quite the opposite in fact – whenever I’m in a city I’m just so eager to get back out of it again. They’re so grey and just….gah not for me. Yet Burton made me feel – not just for the characters – but the city as a whole, this collective consciousness that they were all part of, constantly trying to move forward, to get better before the waters drowned them.
All in all this was a fantastic and innovative novel. Burton has managed to develop a piece that is both a page-turner and full of character development. What more can a reader ask for?