The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Picador) ISBN: 9781447250890
I have to admit that I read this book compulsively – in coffee shops, in the car, at my desk and in bed. I had to know what happened next.
A young country girl, Nella Oortman, is married off to a rich merchant trader, Johannes Brandt, in Amsterdam in 1686. It is the heyday of the Dutch East India Company and the city is the wealthiest in the world.
Nella, travelling alone, arrives at her new home in the strange city. Her husband is mysteriously absent and she is confronted with an eclectic household of striking characters who don’t seem to know what to do with her. Marin, his sister, seems so distant. And how do the dark-skinned man servant and the confident maid fit into this world?
When Nella thinks she has the answers, she realises that she hasn’t even been asking the right questions.
The story is set over four months, but the pace and tension made me feel as if I had lived through a lifetime by the end of a book. I would recommend this book to anybody.
The VOC, or Dutch East India Company, was founded in 1602 with ships trading across Africa, Europe, Asia and Indonesia.
18-year-old Nella has married Johannes Brandt, a much older man and a rich tradesman with the VOC. She arrives in Amsterdam and expects him to greet her. Instead, she is met by his unmarried sister, Marin. It seems her husband is away on business, which becomes a familiar pattern. One day a present arrives for Nella – a cabinet house – which is the exact replica of their house. At first she thinks it is a childish toy and not a fitting wedding gift from Johannes then she decides to order miniatures to fill the house which at least gives her something to do.
Her curiosity is piqued by the life-like nature and accuracy of the miniatures. The pieces begin to take on a life of their own which both disturbs and mystifies Nella. Marin is so secretive and things are not what they seem in this house. Nella does some investigation into her husband. She comes to a shocking revelation and realises the danger concerning her family. Does the miniaturist know their fate and is she sending a message?
The Miniaturist has a magical atmosphere, which lures the reader into a unique and fascinating story. There is certainly room for a sequel from Jessie Burton’s debut novel. It is beautifully written with a haunting quality that leaves you asking for more.
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