Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Miniaturist: A Novel

Title:  The Miniaturist: A Novel
Author:  Jessie Burton
Publication Information:  Ecco. 2014. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0062306812 / 978-0062306814

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book was delivered through Edelweiss.

Favorite Quote:  "When you have truly come to know a person, Nella - when you see beneath the sweeter gestures, the smiles - when you see the rage and the pitiful fear which each of us hide - then forgiveness is everything. We are all in desperate need of it."

Seventeenth century Amsterdam is a dark and gloomy place in this book. It is a world of the rich and the poor. It is a world of trade and greed. It is a world of mysterious characters and mysterious happenings. It is a world of strict social and religious rules.

Nella is an eighteen year old country girl who steps into this world upon her marriage to a well known businessman, Johannes Brandt. The marriage has occurred with a bare acquaintance between the two. Nella is a stranger to Amsterdam, to the home and household of her husband, and even to her husband.

As a wedding gift, Johannes presents to Nella a cabinet sized model of his - and now - her home. Supposedly, such a gift on a smaller scale was sometimes presented to children as "a practice instrument so she might learn to manager her larders, her linen, her servants and furnishings." However, Nella is no longer a child and has the actual home of her husband to manage. How then to understand the gift and what to do with it?

Nella decides to decorate the model and seeks out artisans who may make miniature furnishings. Enter the miniaturist. She sees an advertisement and engages a miniaturist  to make a few specific test pieces. She gets more than she bargained for. The miniaturist has an uncanny and unsettling knowledge of Nella's life and the "pieces" she may need. As the cabinet is furnished, so occur changes in Nella's life and household.

The book has a promising start with hints at the mysteries to come. It has somewhat of a dark, Gothic, supernatural feel to it. Johannes is this mysterious character, who gets married but seems not to have much time for his new bride. The other people in Johannes' household seem to have secrets of their own. The house and its miniature model seem ominous. The weather is cold and damp. Nella has the feeling of being watched and the feeling as if there are secrets she ought to know.

Unfortunately for me, I guessed the ending of the book fairly early in the book. I cannot point out what led me to the guess, but I did guess correctly. That dispelled some of the buildup and mystique of the book.

As the book progresses, it also becomes less and less about the mysterious and the supernatural. Rather, it comes into the every day world of individual choices, social norms, and relationships. The mystery of the miniaturist becomes a vehicle for Nella to learn about her husband, her home, and her new life. "I thought she was stealing my life, but in truth she opened its compartments and let me look inside."

By the end, I am not sure what the purpose of the miniaturist is. The character is never really developed with a back story or a resolution of what happens to her. How then to describe her role in the book?

Nella's story and the story of her new household could have been equally successfully told without the somewhat supernatural element. The historical context of the Dutch trade and strict religious edicts along with the introduction of someone new to both was a strong enough premise on which to build the entire story. Was the miniaturist really necessary?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment