With the Daily Mail claiming The Miniaturist was outselling JK Rowling while The Guardian seemed less convinced by this much-hyped debut, I had to check it out for myself and today I’m going to share with you what I made of it.
The first thing that struck me when picking up The Miniaturist was its iconic cover. Its stunning artwork is inspired by a cabinet which the author came across in The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and it’s a cabinet like this that the novel centres around.
The beauty continued as I opened the book. I’m not generally a fan of prologues but I found this one to be like a work of art. There’s something fresh and crisp about the voice and the attention to detail made it feel so real it gave me goose bumps. It was like the local gossips’ voices echoed around my room.
The story truly begins when Nella Oortman arrives, from the country, at her marital home in the wealthiest part of Amsterdam. She must adjust to life in the City and the curious distance kept by her husband, Johannes Brandt, a merchant trader. As a wedding gift, Johannes buys her a replica of their home, the size of a cabinet, and she turns to a local artisan, a mysterious character known as a miniaturist, to furnish it. As the miniaturist’s tiny models arrive, they seem to foretell the future of the Brandt household and warn of danger in unexpected ways. It’s this that gives this historical tale a haunting, supernatural twist.
The Miniaturist is told from the point of view of Nella throughout and I felt this kept me engrossed in the story and intent on solving the mysteries that grip her. To begin with, Nella seems to be a naïve character but she grows increasingly astute and complex at the story develops. The narration certainly makes the story a page-turner and there are a couple of unexpected revelations, which I won’t spoil here, that made me sit back in shock. I love it when that happens!
I have to say, I found Nella to be quite contemporary for the period. Her voice is strong and assured. Certainly, she is blessed with an independence and a ready acceptance of controversial issues which I found quite surprising. I also wondered, even though I didn’t feel the issues lacked depth, if too many were tackled at the risk of credibility. I was shocked in particular by Nella’s growing affection for Johannes given the trouble he risks, with little conscience, to the family. So, there were therefore a few moments where I thought ‘would she really do that?’ before moving on. However, this was redeemed somewhat by the probing and gossipy feel or much of the dialogue which felt more true to the era.
I found the description throughout to be quite simply gorgeous. Who else would describe a cabbage in an oven as “a green orb in the friendly firelight of the open stove”? For this reason, The Miniaturist is one of the few books with which I’ve fallen in love in my time as a book reviewer. Just like my partner, who I love very much, there are some flaws, but I found these to be surmountable for this is such an enchanting, riveting story. In fact, it could well be my hotpick of the year. We’ll see when I make my selection in December!
It was quite fitting that I finished The Miniaturist at the beautiful Burgh Island Hotel, an Art Deco destination enjoyed by a number of literary greats over the last century. The novel now smiles down at me from an honoury position on my bookshelf and serves as encouragement as I write, for it’s yet another reminder that authors can rise from rejection to success. For those of you struggling to make it as writer, I’d encourage you to check out Jessie Burton’s ‘Road to Publication’ blog for a little inspiration and motivation to write the best book you can!