Thursday, 12 May 2016

Book #24

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen year old Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in Amsterdam to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. Though curiously distant, he presents 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 ring eerily true.As Nella uncovers the secrets of her new household, she realises the escalating dangers they face. The miniaturist seems to hold their fate in her hands - but does she plan to save or destroy them?

My feelings on The Miniaturist are incredibly mixed, and I'll go on to explain why this is. My opening question is this - why is that, when others rave madly about a book and tell me I'll love it, I never do?

The plot is a slow mover, and after 100 pages, I felt ready to give up. I'm thankful I persevered, as things began to take quite a dramatic turn as the family's secrets are revealed. I was ready for a real journey here, and felt destined for answers. They were not to come. The finale was the most disappointing I've read in a while, with nothing cleared up, and all of the characters (as well as myself) left in a mire of melancholy.

Burton's seventeenth century Amsterdam writhes and bustles with the social expectations of the era. She's definitely done her research here; I found it glorious to read of their customs, their food, their dress, and mostly, their words. The narrative is peppered with native Dutch, which is explained by its context, and this is delicious to roll around in your mouth.

Although Burton weaves her plot line and her Amsterdam into a beautiful, intricate web, her characters histories were barely sewn together at all. Much like their doppelgängers in the cabinet, they were wooden and still. I understand she was attempting to slowly release their secrets, however this only served to set them up for a fall; once their secrets were out, there was no further explanation, no tender touch of reasoning. They simply were. This was particularly disappointing in the miniaturist herself, as we weren't given nearly as much of her as I'd have hoped. 

This story has so much potential, but Burton hasn't really delivered. The final page doesn't feel like a final page; she explains nothing. The book is a worthwhile read for the middle third only, but enjoyment declines rapidly after the initial twist. A real shame.

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