The Miniaturist

Book Reviews / Sunday, March 6th, 2016

The Miniaturist is the story of eighteen year old Nella who’s marriage to Johannes Brandt has been arranged due to her family’s drastic money problems.  Johannes is a very wealthy IMG_2582merchant from Amsterdam and he is twice her age.  Arriving in her new home, Nella, a simple girl from the countryside, is greeted with indifference and her husband isn’t even there to welcome her.  Quickly Nella realizes the lady of the house seems to be her sister-in-law Marin, who’s in her  early thirties.  Marin is shrewish and unwelcoming.  There is also a young maid named Cornelia and Otto, Johannes’ manservant described “skin is dark, dark brown everywhere, his neck coming out from the collar, his wrists and hands from his sleeves – all unending, dark brown skin.”(The Miniaturist, p.11)

Johannes eventually appears and bestows upon Nella an exceptional cabinet-sized replica of their home.  He also leaves her quite a bit of money so that she can take the time to have pieces made for it by a miniaturist.  Nella isn’t impressed with this gift for she  anxiously wants to inhabit her role as wife and doesn’t want to be thought of as frivolous. After contracting a miniaturist to make pieces for the cabinet, Nella begins to receive pieces that she has commissioned from the miniaturist along with others she hasn’t and they replicate her actual life exactly.  From there we follow Nella’s discovery of her new home and the secrets of its inhabitants.

Now I must say I did vote for this one but once I got started reading I found it very hard to get into for the first 60 or so pages.  I realized I needed to concentrate more and that allowed me to get into the story.  I found myself sucked into the beautifully descriptive passages and the semi-dark mysterious home and life in 17th century Amsterdam.  The best thing about this novel is the writing.  However, literary fiction it is not.  For those who don’t care about that, you can still enjoy the story and development of Nella’s character.

As for the things I had problems with, the main one was the miniaturist. I thought because the novel was called The Miniaturist there would be more explanation as to who he/she was and what he/she was about.  Instead the miniaturist was, in my opinion, a sort magical realism element to connect the characters and the storylines.  Now this will work for some, but it didn’t work for me at all.  How did the miniaturist know what to make and when to leave the dolls?  Nothing of that is explained.  The second thing I had trouble with was the way Nella reacted to things and how she did things.  Her reactions and behavior seemed to be very 21st century.  In the end I had to reason myself to this and get on with the reading.  There are some twist and turns throughout which I found to be predictable but that some people at my book club hadn’t caught on to in advance.  I’m going to leave that untouched because I’m approaching spoiler territory if I continue.

Lastly what I didn’t like about the novel was the ending.  What the heck?!  I recommend jessieburtonthat you go reread the first Chapter once you’ve finished the novel, but still… What?!  That ending left me with too many unanswered questions.  This can sometimes influence to what degree I like a novel.  I have to say after much thought I’m rating this one 3 stars because it does have some very strong points that do overweigh the bad points.  So yes The Miniaturist is a good book. Is it great?  Did it merit to be so hyped up?  I’m sure everybody has an opinion on both of those questions and I’d like to read it below.

The Miniaturist is Jessie Burton’s debut novel and has been a major success selling over a million copies by 2015.  She worked on this novel for four years, while working a day job as a PA in London.  She’s currently working on her second novel, The Muse, which concentrates on four heroines set in Civil War Spain and 60s London.

My Copy: The Miniaturist, hardcover 435 pages

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8 Replies to “The Miniaturist”

  1. If it’s not literary fiction, how would you classify it? This book has been like, kinda sorta on my radar, but I go back and forth according to the latest review I’ve read. This one doesn’t make me want to read it. I also have a feeling it’s somewhat like The Night Circus (in style) and I didn’t like that one either.

    1. I guess I’d say it’s a very good contemporary style, but it’s definitely not literary in my opinion. I feel the descriptions of it aren’t exactly right either. I haven’t read The Night Circus so I can’t help so much with that comparison. I’d suggest picking it up at the library for a test read before buying it.

  2. Hello! I don’t visit the blog nearly enough to leave behind my comment… Thanks for reviewing the miniaturist! It was one of those books I haven’t really prepared myself to add to my TBR list, despite the hype. Just like Hausfrau, I wonder if it will build me up to let me down in the end… Still, the thought of reading someone else’s debut novel seems appealing to me. Decisions, decisions…

  3. I feel the same Didi! While I probably liked it more than you, I wouldn’t give The Miniaturist more than 3 stars either and when I read it I must confess I was baffled as to all the hype. I liked it, but it wasn’t great and I’m not sure why it caught on to the degree it did.

    1. I’m really questioning these days how books are hyped and pushed and why. I feel that’s what makes certain books catch fire – the quantity of publicity that is thrown at the public. It then makes we wonder how many other underhyped (excellent) books could get the same reception with the same amount of publicity. :/

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