Book Review The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
A somewhat confused novel. There was great world building and historical detail which I loved alongside deceptively strong female characters. On the less positive it seemed overly filled with social themes without enough exploration. Finally the ‘mystery’ of the miniaturist whilst allegedly driving the story forward left me cold.
Plot in a Nutshell
The Miniaturist tells the story of Nella, a rural Dutch girl of just 18. It open in 1686 s as she arrives at the home of her new wealthy merchant husband in Amsterdam . She quickly finds married life tough. She has an often-absent husband and must share her new home with his abrupt sister. As a wedding gift her husband presents her with a miniature cabinet of their home. She sets about finding a miniaturist to help her furnish it. Through her new items she seeks to better understand the confusing new world she had been thrown into.
Burton’s descriptions of Old Amsterdam seen for the first time through Nella’s young, naïve eyes are consistently excellent. I felt as though I walked the streets with her. I could smell the cold, dank air coming from the Canals. She also brought to life the constricting environment created as the Reformation embedded and became uneasy bedfellows with the Guilds and merchants who made the Netherlands so wealthy at the time. Small details helped here and Cornelia, the chatty household maid is a vivacious tour guide.
This novel covers a lot of social themes – we see sexism, religious intolerance, overt racism and homophobia through this book. These are legitimate themes for a historical novel not just a contemporary one they were not deftly handled by the author. This could have been many things. A considered study into the compromise of marriage, a sharp look at hypocrisy of the wealthy or even a sensitive exploration of homosexuality in the 1600s. Instead it felt more like an exercise in ticking current trends rather than really exploring any of the ideas in depth.
The mystery of the miniaturist really never gets going. The accuracy of the items provided are initially interesting and then become progressively creepier as Nella starts to imagine them hiding the secrets of her future. There is however no real exploration of how the miniaturist does this or the extent to which Nella is seeing what she wants to see. As such I had little empathy with Nella, be it in her quest to support her husband or her increasing preoccupation about the miniaturist. .
Ultimately I can’t help but feel this book was mis-represented. Whilst hinted at in the blurb there is no magic to the story of the miniaturist and the mystery is not well explored despite Nella’s near obsession.
Buy The Miniaturist