2015 · Book Reviews · Fiction · Grief · Historical · Romance · Travel

The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

Published: 2015The-Miniaturist-Cover by Picador | Pages: 424

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?

As there was SO much hype and praise for this book, I decided to buy it off amazon as part of the 3 books for £10 offer. The first thing that hit me with this book was the sense of foreboding as soon as I began reading. Maybe this was because of the warming, yet ghostly front cover or the eerie setting of Nella’s new home next to the river in Amsterdam. Burton seemed to create mystery in varying ways such as the ever watchful servants, the elusive Marin and the cold, calculating Johannes.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t particularly warm to any of the character’s as I read the book. I found Nella irritating on times not because of how she acted, but just how she responded to her situation. I liked her determination regarding her need to find out what exactly the Brandt siblings were up to, as well as her obsession with the Miniaturist. However, I did find it incredible difficult to become attached to any one particular character, this had nothing to do with the writing style, rather my general dislike towards them. This definitely created an interesting reading perspective for me as I usually latch on to my favourite character and their narrative as I read. So overall, I actually had a new experience reading this book as I couldn’t really determine or guess what was going to happen next.

I did enjoy the fact that it was set in a different time period than the majority of books I usually read (mostly contemporary or historical fiction based around the Tudors). Again, this opened up a new reading experience for me which was thoroughly enjoyable. Burton also touched upon the ideas of racial tension by creating Otto – in some respects his disappearance wasn’t too much of a hiccough for me, but that could well have been due to my lack of engagement with the text. But please, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed reading it and being taken on this un-nerving journey!

The most engaging part of the novel for me was during Marin’s labour. I think Burton really managed to pull together 3 of the central female character’s, while also showing Marin’s truly feminine side. A heart-breaking scene within the book helped to slow the narrative pace, and made the reader reconsidered their personal viewpoint on this important character. I marvelled at Nella and Cornelia’s ability to band together during this time, and actually began to become attached to the characters, which was great!

I can clearly see why this book was such a hit around the world as Burton saw a gap in the market for this in-between type of literature – this text is somewhat historical due to it being set in the 1800s and being contextualised through the merchants of Amsterdam, but one could argue that it also has a sense of the ‘uncanny’ about it – admittedly everything is eventually explained thus that sense of foreboding and unknowing is resolved. Overall I came round to this book eventually, but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as I expected to, so I give this a 3-star rating!


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