The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: a book of two halves

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?

Review:

This is an interesting and brave book but it doesn’t quite work; it’s definitely a book of two halves, which don’t hang together. The Nella of the first half is dull and weak, whereas the Nella of the second half is very feisty and gripping. I think there should have been more of the hint of feistiness in the first half to try to hold the book together. It’s also fair to say that the writing of the first half is very long-winded, but suddenly when the plot actually begins half way through, this is when the story starts to sing.

I did have to say that I guessed about the baby issue long before Nella realised, so it was no surprise and really something of a cliche. Strangely, the story about the miniaturist is rather out of place and tends to slow the book down – we didn’t need this and it all fades out into something nonsensical in the end anyway. Still, the portrait of a new and challenging marriage and the fabulous writing in the last few chapters of the book make this worth reading, but probably best to start halfway through.

3 out of 5 stars

Anne Brooke Books

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