I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Published by Harper Collins on August 26, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin. But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . . Johannes' gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?
Amsterdam of the 17th century was one of lucrative trade, strict religious practice, and an underbelly of indulgence. All of these aspects seemed to also exist within the Brandt household and serve as the three central motivations for the characters in The Miniaturist. The setting was vividly explored, not only in the city of Amsterdam, but within the house as well. I really felt as if I understood Nella’s sense of suffocation in a house where she was surrounded by strangers. The movements and customs of the household were explained in a way that not only gave me insight from a historical perspective, but it also did a good job of building Petronella’s physical world for me. The people that live in the house and make up Nella’s new family were an odd band of characters who seemed to be determined to find ways to carve out small freedoms while preserving a facade that was bound to crumble quite dramatically..
I very much enjoyed Nella’s character growth throughout the book. She comes to her marriage a scared little girl, really, ready to set off on her romantic adventure. Of course, what she finds is not at all what she expects. The miniature cabinet, which plays a pivotal role in the book, seems to mirror Petronella’s youth and immaturity, as a child’s toy, but it also serves as something that reveals some hard truths to her which I think make her grow up very quickly. The mystery of The Miniaturist was a very enjoyable part of the story, but its resolution was sorely lacking. It puzzles me that it was not more fully explored. Nella’s sister in law was another fascinating character that I wanted to know more about, although perhaps in telling her back story, which is shrouded in mystery. The miniaturist was a fascinating look into things like class, money, and sex set within the confines of a very repressive society. I think that historical fiction fans who also appreciate endings that are not neatly wrapped will be pleased if they give this book a try.