I’m a little late to The Miniaturist party – the book was first published in July 2014 and has been met with endless acclaim, including being crowned Waterstones’ Book Of The Year in December.
The story centres on 18-year-old Nella Oortman, who has arrived in Amsterdam to live with her new and barely-known husband, the successful sugar merchant Johannes Brandt. The marriage is affectionate but loveless, despite Nella’s best attempts to seduce her husband – for reasons that become clear as the novel progresses.
Aside from the other occupants of the house – including Johannes’s formidable sister, Marin, and the two household staff, Cornelia and Otto – the most formidable force in Nella’s new life is the dolls house her husband presents her with.
Determined to make the most of the gift – which she initially considers to be childish – Nella commissions a local miniaturist to create pieces for the dolls house. However, it quickly appears that things are not exactly as they seem – the miniaturist’s tiny figurines appear to be predicting the future and by the end of the novel Nella’s life has changed beyond recognition.
The novel is captivating: thoroughly and intricately researched, it pieces together a vivid setting in such detail that it is almost as if Burton herself is playing miniaturist.
There is a lot of sadness in the book – 17th century Amsterdam wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be – and the book tackles race, sexuality, gender… And abused pets. (Arguably two of the worst moments in the novel were the disappearance of Peebo and the murder of Johannes’ beloved dog.)
A certain suspension of reality is required for the story to quite make sense. Nella is an engaging heroine; forthright and curious, she is as baffled as the reader by the mysteries of the novel, and by its end has become a confident, more mature version of character we initially meet. Whilst the details don’t necessarily always quite add up – the miniaturist’s ability to foresee the future is glossed over – it’s an engaging read and I’d be intrigued to see an adaptation.
Buy The Miniaturist here.