Published 3rd July 2014
'Women don't build anything, let alone their fates,'
This book gave me the chills. It also gave me sunburn, but that's a whole other matter. I read The Miniaturist in two days. Bookish folk often talk about not being able to put down a book and this is one situation where this really applies. I don't think I let go of it for an entire weekend, sneakily reading a few pages whenever I could grab a minute.
Synopsis from Picador:
"On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways.
I mentioned this book a while ago after I'd returned from Amsterdam and was craving a little more of the canal life. The premise immediately captured me and I was not disappointed. This is a really impressive debut, not in the least because of the story behind it being published (I think there's a bidding war in there somewhere).
Even though I'd read about comparisons to Sarah Waters, I wasn't quite expecting the slightly magical quality that pervaded the novel. The minute this strand was introduced it was like the novel took a different turn, but it is a turn that is completely necessary. Without it, I don't think The Miniaturist would be quite so compelling.
There are a couple of things that didn't quite sit with me in The Miniaturist. Although I'm hardly clued up on Amsterdam's history, I do think some of the history was a little off. The characters, particularly the female characters, seemed a bit too progressive, almost like our 21st century feminism was being projected backwards onto them. I personally liked this because I do like my women feisty, but I do also like historical accuracy. The other thing that slightly irked me was the ambiguity. I feel like a strand of the narrative was not quite rounded off and didn't come to a satisfactory climax. Basically, I finished it with questions that I doubt will ever get answered. And yet, I still can't deny that I loved this novel.
Having said all that, Nella's feminist feistiness and the sections which looked at Amsterdam's history and culture were some of my favourite bits (hey, I'm full of contradictions). Nella is very aware of her role as wife and why she was required to marry - it is very much a business transaction. The doll house is full of wonderful symbolism and Nella's own reaction to it speaks to her progressive ideas:
'it is a monument to her powerlessness, her arrested womanhood'
Burton's writing (as the above demonstrates) is polished to perfection. Some passages had me reeling and my kindle almost died from the highlighting that was going on. She manages to create a sense of normalcy, a growing unease and a mystical realness simultaneously.
This is a book I'd recommend to fans of Sarah Waters and Tracey Chevalier. It has that same magical quality Waters is so well-known for and the characterisation Chevalier is so wonderful at. There are one or two flaws (this is a debut), but they do not change how I feel about it in the slightest. It is full of twists that keep you guessing and the sense of unease that appears on pages one grows and grows as each piece of the mystery is revealed.
Has anyone else read The Miniaturist? I'm dying to chat about it!
Review copy received from the publisher via NetGalley.