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6 April 2015

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - Book Review


The Miniaturist is a historical novel set in 1600s Netherlands. Being Jessie Burton's first novel, I was surprised at how much success she received. And by reading it I found out why.

Nella Oortman, a young woman from Assendelft, moves to Amsterdam to start her new life as a wife; her husband, Johannes Brandt, is a merchant for the VOC  (Dutch East India Company) and a mysterious man who is uninterested in spending time with her, much less in bed.

The Brandt household itself is cold and full of secrets: Marin, her husband's sister, is distant and leaves Nella's doubts unanswered. Cornelia and Otto, the servants, seem to be playing her game. As a marriage gift, Johannes gives Nella a cabinet which is the perfect recreation of the Brandt house; a miniaturist will help her furnish it with accurate figurines. The miniaturist seems to be able to predict the Brandt household's secrets, which will gradually be revealed.

I absolutely love the plot of this book. Most reviews judge it as cliché and not original enough; I disagree. There are elements that aren't innovative, but that is also true for most books. For example, the gradual revelation of family secrets is a very common topic, but always intriguing according to me! The initial part is a sort of introduction, the reader becomes accustomed with the Brandt household's environment and characters but not much happens; later on, the book becomes a constant surprise with unexpected plot twists.

The characters are, again, not innovative, but I still enjoyed their portray. Nella is a young, naive woman who grows into a sensible and determined woman; she is a beautiful character but a bit of an unlikely one for her time. Her thoughts and behaviours are far too feminist for the context she is in. She reminded me of Griet from "Girl with a Pearl Earring", both for her character and the setting of the novel; however, this was more of a realistic character. On the other hand, Marin is a lot alike Mrs Danvers from Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

The style and use of language in this novel makes it stand out incredibly. Every sentence is beautiful, and sounds smooth if read out loud.

I also appreciated the extra efforts by the authors of including a personal short guide to Amsterdam at the end of the book, a glossary with Dutch words used throughout the book and very clever quotations at the beginning of the book. Not all authors do this!

In my opinion, The Miniaturist has received too many negative critics. It's overall a great book that reminds you why you like reading so much! The historical accuracy might not be perfect, but after all, we're talking about fiction and not about a history documentary. It's exquisitely written and captivating from the first to the last page. It's also an amazing piece of work considering that it was Burton's first novel! And I can't read her next one.

My edition: Jessie Burton, 2014. The Miniaturist. London: Picador.

Goodreads: 5/5

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