Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton

Set in 17th Century Amsterdam, The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton introduces us to a young newly wed bride, Nella Oortman. At 18 years old, Nella has married a wealthy but older merchant Johannes Brandt and on her arrival in Amsterdam she is introduced to the inhabitants of the Brandt household. Her sister-in-law Marin, is a strict and pious lady who quickly makes Nella feel unwelcome in her new home, the maid Cornelia is abrupt and over-confident, not something Nella has ever encountered in a servant before and Otto the manservant, has skin so dark Nella often catches herself in embarrassment looking at his foreign complexion.

Nella's excitement as a new bride and lady of her own home quickly dissipates as her husband Johannes is scarcely at home, and Marin takes to running Nella's home as if she had never arrived. After her first week in the Brandt household Johanne presents Nella with an extra-ordinary gift - a miniature replica of their home. At first the gift seems absurd and a little insulting to Nella, after all she is not a child. But, as Marin expresses her dislike of the present Nella takes it as an opportunity to assert herself.

Nella employs the skills of a miniaturist to make her furnishings for the miniature cabinet. As Nella receives pieces from the skilled artisan, including objects she had never ordered that are exact replicas of the items in her home, the pieces start to influence happenings in the Brandt household.

I had pegged 'The Miniaturist' to be a sort of magical and enchanting story a bit like 'Night Circus' which I absolutely adore. It's not, but don't let my pre-emptive conclusions cloud your judgment as 'The Miniaturist' certainly was a great read but in more unexpected ways. I really found this book to be more about the relationships between Nella and her unusual household, the secrets they hold and the dangers that being different could bring to their home. There were certainly a few twists in the plot that I didn't fathom coming and most were actually unrelated to The Miniaturist and it's influence on the household.

The Miniaturist was a book full of surprises, and I did enjoy the character Nella and how she grows to become a woman of her own home during the year this book is set. Burton paints a clear picture of the riches and wealth of Dutch society set against the equally oppressive religious forces who control Amsterdam and city where being different is a dangerous thing.

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