The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but even before I’d had The Miniaturist recommended to me it had been on my list of books to buy… simply because of its cover and blue pages. I always found myself being drawn to it first in bookshops before going on to discover another book I had been meaning to read for even longer. However, after a friend of mine with similar taste in books recommended Jessie Burton’s novel to me, I decided now would be the time to get hold of it. Sadly, my copy doesn’t have blue pages, but I eventually got over that disappointment and enjoyed immersing myself in this well-written, mysterious world.
The Miniaturist tells the story of Nella, a young girl newly arrived in Amsterdam after her marriage to a merchant from the city. From the first moment that she arrives, everything is not quite how she expected: both inside and outside the house, the world she has been brought into is one of mystery and subtlety, with secrets hidden in every shadow. Her new husband is distant; her sister-in-law is authoritarian in the running of the household; and eerily accurate miniature figures keep appearing for the replica of their house she was given as a wedding present. As she struggles to find her place in the rules around her, she begins to discover the truth behind her questions could be dangerous for their entire household.
I know I’m behind the times with this novel, so I’m sure that it comes as no surprise when I say that this was one of the most well-written and creative worlds that I have stepped into. Although there is much less emphasis on the ‘magic’ element of The Miniaturist, the style of writing brought to mind Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, with the way that it engages the reader by enthralling them in the personal mystery and conflict happening whilst an eerie, magical element sits behind the scenes. 17th Century Amsterdam is brought to life in Burton’s writing, but, for all its familiarity as a historical period, it could almost be a land from a fantasy novel. I think part of the draw of this novel for me was the way that, despite the fact that there is an element of magic there, Burton is able to evoke the mystery of the everyday lives of those within the Brandt household as though that too were part of the magic.
The novel may be titled The Miniaturist, but heart of the narrative lies within the characters residing in the Brandt household and their relationships to each other. With the exception of Cornelia, it seems, all are hiding secrets: from the rest of the household and from the rest of the world. As these secrets are gradually revealed in the most painful ways imaginable, those remaining in the household have to learn to trust each other and support each other through incredibly difficult circumstances. This is not a book that ends happily; in fact, re-reading the prologue after finishing the main narrative is chilling in its insight into the possible future for this family. Yet it is a book that ends with a new family being found amongst those who previously had been living together alone.
This was definitely one of those novels I struggled to put down once I had started reading: I was so eager to discover what was going on and how all these eerie events were connected. At first, I wasn’t totally sold on the ending, but re-reading the prologue in light of it gave me chills that lasted long after I had put the books away, and that made me rethink my position. I think this is a book that I would recommend to those I thought would enjoy it; I wouldn’t say it is a book I would blanketly recommend to everyone. However, I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in this novel for a while and I’m grateful to my friend for recommending it to me.