Title: The Miniaturist
Author: Jessie Burton
Year of Publication: 2014
Published by: Picador Books (by Pan Macmillan)
The Miniaturist is a haunting novel set in 17th century Amsterdam. It follows the story of our main character, Petronella Oortman, from the minute she knocks on her new husband’s door.
Nella has been set up in a marriage, thought to be a dream come true by her mother and every other girl in her village, Assendelft. She is married to a wealthy merchant named Johannes Brandt.
But what she doesn’t know is life in Amsterdam is far from being a dream; especially in 1686, when the burgomasters and the Church are taking over the country, and neighbors are always on the watch for anything that arouses suspicion.
The Main Characters
Nella’s husband is mostly neglecting, and he tries to avoid her at the beginning, which causes Nella great confusion and distress. As she unravels the secrets of her husband’s past and present, she finds out that the events are inevitably bound together with the past of the three other residents of their house: his sister, Marin; their maid, Cornelia; and their servant, Otto.
“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .”
In my opinion, Johannes is such a complex and outstanding, amazing human being. Of course, I may have a faith which contrasts his views, but that doesn’t change the fact that I nodded fiercely at everything he was saying throughout the book.
I loved the way how, with time, he began trying to get comfortable and intimate with Nella. He tried, he really did, but it wasn’t enough to fulfill a little girl’s dreams of a healthy marriage and a warm home and a big family.
She thought she’d left her home in Assendelft for a life that would make up for everything she’s never had, but she’s mistaken.
Johannes’ sister, is a woman of mysteries and contradictions. A walking paradox, if I might say. She holds so much of herself for herself, and shares very little of it with people. I think she, of all the characters, is the one who changes the most throughout the story, at least through the eyes of the reader.
She is a maid who takes pleasure in making up stories about the truths she knows of the Brandts, but by the end of the book I guarantee you’ll be swooning over how loving and caring she is.
Otto is a character that I wish I’d heard more of. He doesn’t play any main role in the storyline until the last 200 pages or so. He is also amazingly caring, but perhaps a bit more conservative and secretive than Cornelia.
Trying to offer a distraction from his secretive behavior, Johannes offers his wife a wedding gift: a miniature version of their house. He gives Nella the freedom to decorate it the way she wants.
Nella only finds one miniaturist in Amsterdam, but little does she know that the miniaturist is the one who’s constructing her fate and leading her into it at the same time.
Throughout the story, Nella becomes convinced that every piece the miniaturist sends has a tangible connection with the shocking events that are taking place in her household.
“Growing older, Nella realizes, does not seem to make you more certain. It simply presents you with more reasons for doubt.”
If you think this book is a kind of warm, touchy-feely read that gives you a glimpse of Amsterdam’s history full of glamorous balls and dinners and fortunes, it is not. It’s a book of mysteries, (every other page is a mystery unto itself), and the characters tend to be shocking and layered.
I absolutely love it when an author succeeds in making the characters materialize into real human beings. I love it when they aren’t just words on paper any longer, but real human beings you can empathize and connect with.
The story picks up a bit slowly at first, but every chapter holds an answer for a previous mystery, and a new question to be raised. It’s been beautifully thought out, imagined and researched. Burton has definitely put all of her heart into it.
There are deep metaphors throughout the book, making the words dance with a mystic trill in your head. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m glad I didn’t rush it, but savored it. I advise you to do so, too.
Originally published on the Unapologetic Writer. Reformatted and lightly edited for publishing on black CATastrophy.
About the Reviewer
Marwa Abdeen is an 18 year old book lover and reviewer. She reads books in both English (her second language) and Arabic (her first language). Catch up with her on Goodreads.