Published by Ecco on Aug. 26, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
After her family falls on hard times in 1686, 18-year-old Nella is married off to a wealthy merchant with the Dutch East India Company. She moves into his Amsterdam house with high hopes for her marriage but is disappointed by her reception: her husband, Johanne, is distant and rarely home, and his sister, Marin, is cold and unfriendly. Sensing her loneliness, Johanne gives Nella an ornate cabinet house as a gift. The beautiful object is an exact replica of their house, and Nella enlists the help of a miniaturist to furnish it. But she gets more than she bargained for; the miniaturist begins delivering startling pieces Nella didn’t ask for — pieces that hint at carefully hidden secrets.
In a way, this novel reminded me of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. It has the same dark, atmospheric feel to it. However, The Miniaturist has a bit of a creepy tone, as well. Who is the miniaturist, and how does she know so much about Nella and her companions? Is she trying to tell Nella something, or is she merely an observer? Is she dangerous? On this point, the big reveal actually fell a little flat, to me. I was expecting something bigger. Also, the book didn’t explain things as fully as I would have liked, but Burton managed to reveal the secret of the miniaturist while still keeping her mysterious — which is a tricky thing to do.
However, Burton did an excellent job rendering 17th-century Amsterdam. She clearly did a lot of research, and I loved the historical details in this novel. It was fascinating to read about the operations of a Dutch East India Company merchant, the role of the church in daily life, the function of guilds, attitudes toward race and sexuality, and the social roles and limitations of women. In addition to the historical tidbits, Burton conveys the setting really well, evoking the damp chill of the Amsterdam winter. I started reading this book on a rainy, cool day, and it was absolutely perfect.
The Miniaturist is one of my favorite books of the year, so far. It’s a perfectly creepy, atmospheric piece of historical fiction about a young woman trying to navigate a plethora of secrets with devastating consequences in 17th century Amsterdam.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.