The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton



A perfunctory glance at google reveals that Jessie Burton is an actress who has worked in the theatre and studied at Oxford. The Miniaturist is her debut novel, and purportedly took four years to write.

This was the first book from Mr B’s that I tackled, and one of my suggestions for the book club I belong to.

It took me a couple of weeks to get into but that was not down to the novel, but that wasn’t anything other than me not committing to the introduction. I always find it takes me about thirty pages to settle into a novel, and at five pages a night just before I went to sleep, I wasn’t giving it the respect it deserved.

I’m going to try not to spoil any of the story, but in a novel about secrets and whispered conversations, it might not be possible to keep everything under wraps!

18 year old Petronella (Nella) Oortman arrives at her  Amsterdam marital home as a newlywed who’s met her husband once.  She’s greeted by the household staff and her sister in law, in an awkward and frosty reception, perfectly illustrated.  Her new husband is older and an extremely wealthy merchant, so he is rarely around.

He does give her a beautiful and expensive dollhouse, a near replica of their house. Nella is baffled by the gift – traditionally given to young girls in order to practice running the household. At eighteen, she already has the skills, and she chafes under the assumption that she does not. As an act of defiance, she enlists a Miniaturist to fill the house, her small piece of Amsterdam that she is truly in charge of. The first pieces duly arrive and they are beautiful indeed, but some of them allude to events that have yet to pass, an uncomfortably close reflection of their innermost thoughts, writ large in miniature.

As more pieces arrive, unbidden, the tension builds alongside Nella’s discovery of secrets and lies within and outside of the household, as she begins to understand the political and religious hierarchy within the merchant guilds of Amsterdam.

At the same time, she is building a relationship with her new family and as everything unravels she finds she is knitting another life altogether.

I enjoyed the detail in The Miniaturist and it’s obviously well researched. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the narrative was a lot sadder than I had expected it to be. I was a bit disappointed that Burton didn’t take the path I had hoped she would, towards the occult and arcane, instead treading the slightly more worn one.

Her next book is called Belonging and is a dual time narrative between the Spanish Civil War and London, thirty years later. It sounds quite interesting, and I am a sucker for time travel in novels!


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