“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?” (harpercollins.com)
I want to start by showing off how beautiful my copy of The Miniaturist is. I was really lucky to win a copy from my favourite bookshop, Dymocks. I knew when I won that it was a signed copy, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover blue page edges when I received it. Aesthetically it’s stunning, and it’s books like these that remind me how much I love reading real books. An eBook can never compare to the beauty of this.
The inside of the book however – the actual story – I have mixed feelings about. I was super excited to read because the cover was so pretty (I know, I know – there’s that whole thing about not judging a book by its cover) and the plot sounded great, but I think my overall feeling was one of deflation, but I still really loved reading it. Let me try and explain.
The setting. Ah, I loved it. There’s a feeling that comes with reading about 17th century Holland that is completely different from reading books set in different countries in the same era. To me the tone is much darker than books set in England and France at that time. I don’t know what it is, but I feel sort of apprehensive when reading; like something bad is always about to happen (or maybe that’s just me).
The story itself is fantastic. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are topics touched on in the novel that are still incredibly relevant in modern society, and it got me thinking that no matter how far humanity has advanced in terms of things like technology, when it comes to questions of equality we’ve really not moved along as far as we should have. The fact that this novel is set in the late 1600’s and is asking questions that are still asked today, I think says a lot about how poorly we have prioritised as a species.
So, I loved the setting and I loved the story. The characters I was a bit ‘meh’ about. None of them really stood out a lot, which I am perfectly ok with as I think that the novel on the whole wasn’t really about the characters as much as it was about the situation the characters found themselves in. For me they were vessels for communicating something about the society they lived in. That’s not to say they were bad characters. At the start I really liked Nella, but a moment of carelessness on her part changed my mind completely – it was only a small thing in the grand scheme of the novel, but I took it kind of personally (if you read or have read the book, the moment has to do with Peebo). As for the rest of the characters, they were perfect for conveying a larger story of a society, rather than any personal story.
But the ending is probably what left me with that feeling of deflation. With about two chapters to go I was still waiting for something to happen, and then I got to the end and I was still waiting. I was left wanting more, and I don’t mean in the way that I want there to be a sequel (which I’m not against), but in the sense that I feel like not enough happened to justify the book ending – I had no closure. It just ended, kind of like that book ‘An Imperial Affliction’ in The Fault in Our Stars – it also ended abruptly and offered no closure (and had a maybe Dutch character in it!). If I want to get all philosophical, I could say “well that’s just what life is – you don’t always get closure”. But when I read, I want closure, I don’t want to die wondering what happened to those characters I devoted a week of my life to.
Having said that, I can see no other way the book could have ended without it seeming contrived, and merely a case of the author giving the reader what she thinks they want. And regardless of how much the ending left me feeling a bit empty, the rest of the book more than makes up for it. Despite it being set over three centuries ago, it holds a mirror up to society as we are now and I don’t think we should like all of what we see reflected back to us. The prettiness of the cover set me up for a somewhat flowery historical fiction, but I am very pleased to say that that is not what I got.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – Honestly, there weren’t any standouts.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – Readers of historical fiction should definitely give it a go. In some ways it reminded me of Alexandre Dumas’ The Black Tulip, which is also set in Holland in the late 1600’s. Although the plots and characters are very different, there was that same dark feeling running through both (for me anyway) so maybe if you’ve read Dumas’ novel and enjoyed it you might like The Miniaturist as well. If you haven’t read Dumas’ novel, you should – it’s excellent.
FAVOURITE QUOTE – There weren’t any that jumped out at me and demanded to be remembered. But this one I feel shows how oppressive the city feels to the main character, and reflects the feel of the novel: “Nella follows Marin’s gaze, both staring enviously at the brief square of golden sunlight afforded by the mother’s exit. In this intense new world of Amsterdam, in this cold city church, one hour of worship feels like a year.”