My mother lent me The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, with glowing praise for how much she enjoyed it. I can see the instant appeal for her, as she is herself, a miniaturist. I was excited to read this and it continues my 10 Books of Summer reading.
The Miniaturist takes us back to autumn, 1686 as young Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to start her married life. Nella’s mother has arranged a good match for her with Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant. The reception at her new, grand home is less than appealing, with two unusual servants, a stony sister-in-law and a distant husband. I think there is a really interesting mixture of characters. Through them Burton, the author, is able to bring up difficult issues, including gender roles, sexuality and racism. While I didn’t particular like the characters, not even Nella, I did sympathise and ultimately found them fascinating to read about.
Not long after her arrival Nella is presented with an extravagant and extraordinary wedding gift. A complete and perfect miniature version of her new home. This is when the story really takes off. Nella’s new home is full of secrets, lots of secrets. The ‘miniaturist’ Nella employs to furnish her Dolls House makes exquisite pieces but soon pieces, not ordered, begin to arrive. These unexpected pieces seem to eerily coincide with people and events within the house, which the ‘miniaturist’ shouldn’t possibly be able to know about. As more arrive Nella begins to believe the mysterious ‘miniaturist’ is trying to warn her of the secrets and terrible dangers which are to befall her household.
This is a dark, fast paced and excellently written mystery. From the moment the Dolls House arrived I could barely prize myself away. Being equally scared and excited about what could possibly happen next. I warn you this is not a happy read but it is gripping and tackles some really difficult and important issues. All set in the immersive setting and tense atmosphere of Amsterdam in the 1600s. This is not a time period I know much about. Burton, the author, has brought it all beautifully alive though. I could see the bustling streets and tall houses, I could feel the bitter cold, I could smell the sweet pastries, and I could feel the fear and hysteria in the air. However interesting it was to read about. This is one place and time period I would not like to visit; let alone have lived in.
The Miniaturist is a gripping and immersive read, and Jessie Burton is an author I look forward to seeing more of. I highly recommend to those who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction. I also recommend to those interested in literature that discusses LGBT, race and gender issues. Great read.
Have you read this? What did you think? Any recommendations for other literature set in Amsterdam?
10 Books of Summer – 2/10