Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, is set in late 17th century Amsterdam and tells the story of an 18 year old woman, Nella Oortman, who married a wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. Nella, a country girl, has to move to the city to start her new life with her husband, but when she arrived there she was received by her husband’s very unfriendly sister, Marin, instead of himself.
Johannes, a well-respected businessman, turns out to not be the man she thought he was. He rarely shows interest in his wife, but he does buy her an ostentatious wedding gift – a miniature cabinet of their house. When Nella realizes that her husband might be trying to avoid her, Marin insistently showing her that SHE is the woman of the house and the two servants, Cornelia and Otto not receiving her well in the beginning, she sets her attention on furnishing her miniature house. That’s when she recruits the miniaturist and that’s where most of the intrigue of the novel starts.
The miniaturist brings a magical and macabre element to the story. The items that the miniaturist are being recruited to make isn’t the only items she sends to Nella. Somehow the miniaturist knows what is happening in her house and can foretell what is still to happen and is using these items to send Nella a message. This freak out and intrigue Nella in equal measure and as much as there were rules the citizens of Amsterdam has to obey, Nella takes the chance to continue working with the miniaturist out of curiosity. What else does she know? Can she help Nella uncover the secrets in this house and the people that live in it?
Beautifully written, The Miniaturist is an interesting piece of historical fiction that blends family secrets, betrayal and magic realism. The story of the miniaturist’s role in Nella’s life adds an eerie mystery to the tale, but never gets solved or reach a satisfactory conclusion, which was a bit disappointing to me. I don’t know what happened to the miniaturist and although I can appreciate her role in the story was to warn Nella (even though she never really caught on in time), I did want to know more about her. For me, this made the ending of the novel fall a little flat, but it still was a good read.
Have you read it? What did you think?
Disclaimer: I received this book from Panmacillan SA, for review consideration