As promised on Sunday, I have finally put together my review of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I always attempt to write reviews right after I finish the book in question but life tends to get in the way. I finished this novel a couple of weeks ago so hopefully, everything is still somewhat fresh in my mind.
I purchased this novel this summer after hearing a lot of good reviews about it on BookTube. However, I didn’t feel like picking it up until a month ago after meeting its editor. She seemed so enthusiastic about it (as an editor should be) and I thought I would check it out for myself. I am really glad I did.
The Miniaturist takes place in the amazing city of Amsterdam between 1686 and 1687. Google classifies it as a Historical Drama, which I have to agree with, although I find it also has a large part of mystery in it. The whole story revolves around the role of Amsterdam as the centre of colonial trade. The young Nella Oortman arrives in the city from rural Holland to live with her new husband Johannes Brandt, his sister Marin and their two servants Cornelia, an orphan, and Otto, a black man. Nella is thrown into these unknown surroundings where everybody treats her like an outcast and her husband ignores her. As a wedding present, he gives her a cabinet containing a miniature replica of their house and he tells her that she is responsible to fill it as she wishes. The miniaturist she hires becomes a mysterious part of her life and a constant presence through the hardships that she is led to experience.
The plot of the novel is multi-dimensional and each character has an important role to play. There is no supportive role and the reader has to engage with everyone he or she encounters in order to grasp the full extent of the story. I really liked the empowering message that this book conveys, having strong female characters trying to live independently from male influence and making a life for themselves. In a context where money and men seem to be at the centre of society, women are the true masters of the household. Nella uses the miniature she’s been given as an outlet for rebelling against the restrictive rules that the pious Marin imposes on the house.
During the time of the story, Amsterdam is caught between the wealth of the trade and the need for sobriety imposed by the Church. Burton does a great job at showing how this conflict impacts each character. I also loved her use of water as a symbol throughout the novel. The fear that Amsterdam will be flooded is seen as a threat from God for its citizens being too greedy. In the story, water is the source of life and freedom but can also become synonym of death. It flows all over the city as a reminder of this duality. Birds are also used throughout the novel as a metaphor for a caged existence vs. freedom. This particular metaphor is not very original but I did feel that it brought something to the story.
In my last post, I shared with you a quote from the novel. The language is absolutely beautiful. However, I found it very difficult to adapt to a story written in the present tense. It would take me a few pages to get used to it each time I picked up the book. I am not sure why but it just threw me off. Maybe because it’s a story set in our past…
Apart from the use of the present tense, I only have one other complaint about this novel. I found the plot to be fairly predictable. One of the twist, although I had an inkling, did really shock me, but the others were not that surprising. I guess the fact that the book starts with the epilogue is a bit of a spoiler in itself. However, I found this structure interesting because when I read the introduction first, I was really confused, but reading it after having finished the novel put everything into perspective. I was a bit disappointed by the resolving of the miniaturist mystery. I won’t say much about it to keep this review free of spoilers but I was expecting a bit more drama for this element of the plot.
In conclusion, I think you get the idea that I really enjoyed this book. I believe I gave it a 4 stars rating on Goodreads. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves a bit of history, a lot of drama, and great characters. Also, if you’re as in love with the Netherlands as I am, you should definitely read this.