Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton


Book: The Miniaturist

Author: Jessie Burton

Pages: 416

I read it on: My Kindle

I read it in: 8-9 hours across a couple of days

Plot Summary: 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?

General Thoughts and Review: This is a beautifully written book about 17th century Amsterdam (in particular) and the Netherlands (in general). It is, essentially, a domestic drama with an element of the supernatural thrown in. If you go into this book thinking that there will be a big mystery that will be neatly revealed, then drop this book right now because if that's your expectation (and it is a fair one going by the book's description and summary on every book review and online store!), then this book will disappoint. 

The Miniaturist is not a neatly wrapped up story with the typical beginning-middle-end pieces in place. It is more of a snapshot of a period in the life of the Brandt family and there is no neat conclusion, more like a cliffhanger of sorts, which I found kind of frustrating. This book is almost like looking in through the window into the life of a family and then leaving at some point.. the family's life goes on but you don't get to see what happens. Sort of frustrating. 

I always like reading about countries during a specific time period, which is why I picked up this book because I had not really read any work of fiction set in the Netherlands during the late 17th century, when the country was at its peak of the Calvinist reformation movement and also getting enormously wealthy from colonizing Asian and African nations. So, the descriptions of the social and cultural mores of this period are nicely done and seem authentic and well researched. 

Of the various characters in the book, Nella is the only one we get to know and get under the skin of. The others merely flit through and you can pretty much guess why Johannes wants nothing to do with his beautiful and much younger bride! 

The supernatural aspect of this book stems from the little miniatures made by the mysterious 'miniaturist'. Nella finds these little figurines and bits and bobs showing up unasked for and these are almost always portents of something damaging happening to the Brandt family. However, the resolution of this sub-plot is far from satisfactory and, so, in the end, this whole supernatural device seems rather pointless! Like I said, in the beginning, don't get into this book thinking this is some kind of a supernatural mystery- it is not. 

Rating: 3/5 

If you want to read a good book that captures the various forces playing tug-of-war in Calvinist Amsterdam, then this is a good book. However, don't expect a neat closure or even a huge supernatural twist/sub-plot because the book does not deliver either of those. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi
I like your review. I think Jessie is a great writer and this book was so different to other historical fiction books I have read. Full of historical detail and intrigue.

I just finished reading this book and reviewed it also if you would like to check out my review too.

Anonymous said...

Hi
I like your review. I think Jessie is a great writer and this book was so different to other historical fiction books I have read. Full of historical detail and intrigue.

I just finished reading this book and reviewed it also if you would like to check out my review too.