Book: The Miniaturist
Author: Jessie Burton
Pages: 416 (Paperback)
Published: June 2, 2015
“Every woman is the architect of her own fortune.”
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?
In this novel, Burton paints a picture of a cold, dark and dangerous Amsterdam in the late 17th century. The reader follows a young woman from the country who discovers life in the city. Her mother married her off to a rich merchant in the city, Johannes Brandt. There are three other people in the household: Johannes’ sister Marin, the maid Cornelia and a manservant, Otto. All of these characters are well developed, everyone has hidden traits and secrets, some of them dangerous. When Petronella, Nella for short, arrives in Amsterdam, she’s alone, barely knowing her husband. Everyone else in the household seems distant and cool towards her. When Johannes gives her a miniature house, she finally has some kind of purpose. The miniaturist she hires makes perfect replicas of everything that is found in the actual house, just a lot smaller. And somehow these replicas seem to predict the future. The miniaturist knows about all of the secrets of the house members. The reader never really discovers how and that character remains a great mystery throughout the whole book. Marin seems to throw the household because Johannes is always absent. Cornelia and Otto become more and more friendly. And Nella has such a great character arc. In a short period of time (only a few months) she develops from an innocent country girl to a strong, independent woman with many secrets of her own, and even more burdens.
Until a bit over the half of the book I didn’t really know where the story was going. The beginning was quite slow, even though the reader gets some clues about what might happen. The farther the reader gets, the more they find out about what living in Amsterdam is: dangerous. It is dangerous for non-straight people, for black people, for people with too many secrets and too many enemies. Sometimes I really wanted to slap some of the characters for their homophobic and anti-black behaviour. I mean, this book is set during the colonialism and one learns a lot about what white people did, and our main character Nella criticizes it, and so do other members of the household. But not the people in the city.
Towards the end of the book I finally realised what was going to happen but then a huge plot twist hit. I enjoyed the book, especially the writing style which was quite poetic at some parts. I loved the main character and side characters immensely. But it was too slow at some parts and there are many open questions at the end.