As I’m no longer bound by deadlines for my own work, I’ve been making progress on my list of books to read for fun. One of these was The Miniaturist, which was published in 2015 and widely acclaimed. This book was, largely, unputdownable and I looked forward to the few minutes of reading time I have at the end of the day after my baby has gone to sleep just to get back to Burton’s imagining of life in 1686 Amsterdam.
Written in third person, present tense (which reminded me immediately of the style of writing used by Michael Ondaatje in his The English Patient), this novel was impressive especially as it was a debut novel. Nella Oortman is the main protagonist, a young woman (just eighteen) from a noble but impoverished family, marries a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt. The character I ended up pitying the most was Johannes, for reasons I shan’t divulge lest I give away some of the plot. This is not a love match, but Nella is very ready to fall in love with her husband and settle into her new role as his wife. This is easier said than done, and she quickly finds herself in a new home with Marin, her new sister-in-law, cold, formal, pious, and I found I didn’t like Marin – ever – in the story, though I’m sure we’re supposed to care about her. In the new home, there are also two servants, Cornelia and Otto, both of whom are integral to the story.
Johannes presents Nella with a miniature doll’s house version of their own house, and Nella at first takes this as an insult, but when she begins ordering miniature items from the mysterious miniaturist, things begin to take a decidedly strange turn. I believe that the author was first inspired to write this novel after visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which houses a miniature doll’s house, like the one in this novel. It truly is a breathtaking sight (as are so many other things in that great museum).
Now, I thought the story was pretty intriguing, and I read it within a few days. Indeed, it was gripping, and the talented Burton provides excellent atmosphere with her beautiful, descriptive writing, but the plot, I felt, was severely hampered by the ending, for the miniaturist remains mysterious. What annoyed me, however, was the very modern sensibilities of one of the female leads which I found incongruous in a seventeenth-century lady. A gorgeous book but a let down in the final chapters.