I’m definitely late to the party with this one, as I saw a lot of buzz about this book a while ago but better late than never!
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?
The Miniaturist was so well written and had such beautiful and intricate descriptions that I could so vividly picture the way Amsterdam used to be. From the little cobbled streets to the tasty food and confectionery, it was honestly such a readable story.
It’s quite hard to believe this is Jessie Burtons debut novel – it’s such a compelling and well researched story. There was in fact a real couple: Petronella Oortman and Johannes Brandt who serve as the inspiration for Burtons characters but obviously there has been a lot of creative license taken. There’s a few pages devoted to references as well as commonly used phrases and language which can be found in the book too. I absolutely love learning about history so this was a nice little feature.
I believe the book also exposes the hypocrisy and restrictive nature of Dutch society at the time. In a time where any mistake or moral shortcoming could be punishable by law, where friends and neighbours would spy on each other and inform the authorities, often leading to dire results. Burton definitely exposes the dark underbelly of this society, where the love of money was everything – at the expense of compassion.
“Amsterdam: Where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder.”
While the overarching story continues, the thread which weaves it all together is that of the miniaturist – an elusive crafter of wares who repeatedly sends intricate replicas of Nella and those around her, as well as items in their home, with puzzling notes attached. This is the greatest mystery of the story, who is it? Why do they send the miniatures to Nella? Do they profess the future? You’ll have to read and find out!
One of the many highlights of this novel are the complex host of characters that we are introduced to. From Nella Oortman, to Marin Brandt, to Cornelia their maid and Otto, they all have their own unique voice. It’s hard to find a book where each character is interesting in their own right. They each have a story to tell and what I also loved is the way they form such strong bonds with each other.
Through the course of the story we see their triumphs as well as their tribulations – Nella starts off optimistic and hopeful but becomes more knowledgable and matures a lot by the end of the book. She finds out so much about herself as well as the society in which she lives – while she has been raised to see marriage as the cure to all of lifes problems, she realises that she can indeed be ‘the architect of her own fortune’.
While Marin is a foreboding and difficult character to like – at first anyway, over time you see a deeply intelligent and compassionate woman who has tried to forge her own path, choosing to remain unmarried and pursue her own passions. I really liked Cornelia, the quick witted and fiercely loyal maid as well as Otto who is a gentle hearted man, and also the ward of Johannes.
It’s strange even though all the characters seem to love Johannes, I have to say I definitely don’t share this sentiment. While I was interested in him at first, eventually I just didn’t see anything overly fascinating about him, and at times I feel like he was quite selfish. No character can be perfect though so this is true to human nature, everyone has their flaws.
The way the story ends is one which I’m sure is quite divisive, if you like clear cut, all strings tied sort of endings then this may prove sort of disappointing to you. For me, I love an ending which will keep me thinking and wanting more, even though it can be frustrating at times – this one is the perfect one for this truly atmospheric story.
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction or anyone who enjoys a haunting story with unique and interesting characters. It’s definitely a book I’d love to re-read and I hope other people love it as much as I do!
★★★★- 4 Star Rating
Have you read The Miniaturist? If so, what did you think? Or if not, does it sound like a book you’d be interested in? Would love to chat in the comments!
Until next time,