The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

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The Miniaturist was advertised everywhere at the end of 2014, a Sunday Times number 1 bestseller and Waterstones Book of the Year. So I was intrigued and had to add it to my reading list. Finally I have read it!

Set in the 1600’s in Amsterdam, we follow Nella who moves into her new husband, Johannes’ home. She meets his sister Marin, the maid Cornelia and the man servant Otto. Nella has to quickly fit into the household run by Marin, discover Johannes’ secret and understand how Cornelia and Otto fit into the household. Also she needs to quickly learn about how Amsterdam works, and the trading world. Jessie creates a very strange household full of intrigue and mystery.

The story slowly unfolds as the characters develop and when we think an event is the central theme, we are surprised by another event happening. The characters do develop and are lovely but I didn’t feel connected to any of them. But I could feel the relationships between the characters and I was intrigued to know what would happen to them. Nella is naïve and a little scared when we first meet her but she develops into a strong woman. Marin is just strange and I think underneath wants to be a free woman away from the restrictions of society but still would like love in her life. Also she represents the restraints of woman in society in the 1600’s – her room is full of books and maps and it may symbolise her yearning to travel as her brother does and see the world. Her meagre running of the household, wearing black and religious observances also demonstrate and constantly remind us how strict Amsterdam was and its culture.

Jessie has packed this story full of historical detail and we are given an all round history lesson of what living in Amsterdam was like in the period this story is set including trade, food, religion, society and house décor. Justice is also covered and in great detail – being gay is illegal and punishable by death and this is a central theme in this story. The detail of the jail, court and execution are captivating that we feel we are there seeing everything. Religion, law and freedom are central elements to this book and weaved through the whole story that they make us think how restricted society was in Amsterdam and whilst everyone gets on with living their lives, people have secrets and yearnings to be free and do what they want to do. It also shows that everyone is different and don’t always fit into society.

The miniaturist, Nella engages to furnish her house, does not feature in the story much and we never meet her. I find miniature houses amazing to look at as there is so much detail in them and it brings us back to another era where these houses are a representation of history now. In this story, Nella’s house is a representation of the house she lives in and the conformity and society’s expectations of running a household. The miniaturist is an outsider like us looking in and her surprise gifts to Nella for the house are a guide that people have secrets and life is not always as simple as it looks. Also she teaches Nella to look beneath first appearances to find the real people and truth. Jessie’s clever use of the miniaturist as an outside character brings more intrigue to this story and a power to predict the future is also suggested which keeps us reading.

Jessie’s writing skills are brilliant – she brings a story to life and her use of historical detail really makes us think we are in the era she is writing about. Her writing style also makes this story easy to read. She has created a story that is really good and keeps us intrigued to the end. The ending for me was a complete surprise and left me wanting to know what happens next as it ended on such a cliffhanger for me. I think Jessie is a daring writer who has written a book that is so different to all the books out there at the moment.

Overall I thought this book didn’t live up to the hype, but thinking about the story, I must admit that I enjoyed this book and it is definitely worth reading if you would like something different, like historical fiction and intrigue and mystery.

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