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I have feelings about this one.  I am not sure where they will end up, so this review is as much about unpacking them as sharing with you!  There will be spoilers, but I will try to keep them to a minimum

Book 36 – The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton.  Nella Oortman is just 18 when, in 1686, she is married to a stranger and sent to live in Amsterdam in a house full of shadowy conversations and unexpected characters.  Her husband Johannes barely looks at her, her sister-in-law is sharp and evasive, the maid is rude and the man-servant is a black man who, whilst deemed free, has a hazy past in which his status is very much a mystery to Nella.  Trying to give his wife something to focus on in her many hours alone, Johannes presents her with a replica of their house, for her to fill at will.

Nella feels a degree of aversion to the replica but after events lead her to reassess her situation, she seeks out a miniaturist to fill the house with things that will fill the voids in her own life.  However, the items she receives are far more than she expected, and set in motion a train of events that may, or may not, be influenced and controlled by the artist.  As Nella’s life judders out of control, and terrible secrets are revealed, she finds herself unable to stop them all heading for disaster.

This book has been lauded by critics, and is certainly an interesting take on the historical novel genre. There were some lovely details that gave the book depth and texture: the era was integral to the tale.

However, I did feel the characters were very modern in a number of ways: *spoiler alert* for example, the household’s acceptance of, and reaction to, homosexuality seemed out of kilter with what we knew of their characters and the era *end of spoiler*.  I felt that the growth of Nella, in the course of the story, was out of keeping with anything that could be expected of a young lady of her background.  The use of foreshadowing and signposting sometimes took away some elements of suspense for me as well.

I also felt that the miniaturist storyline was less engaging than it should have been. It started extremely strongly but as the story grew it felt less and less integral to the plot, and it concluded without the punchy impact I wanted.

Still, the way the story ended for Johannes and his sister was very powerful because it highlighted the view that people cannot hide from fate.  There was a strong sense of what is, and is not, inevitable throughout the book.  Nella exhibited a sense of arrested childhood due to situations outside her control, had constant distractions when seeking out the Miniaturist, and had to think in a brand new way to cope with the future she was facing.  All these things made it seem that her path was not of her own choosing, but that fate helped prepare her for what would come to her.

I liked the book – it was very hard to put down once I started, and the language was satisfying.  Repeated motifs of shadows and light were used to good effect, but with subtlety.  However, I also found its central pillar – the Miniaturist storyline – a little unsatisfying and vaguely concluded.  It never really went where I expected and seemed to hang just over the horizon in some way.

The characters were interesting, if a little out of time, and their strangeness to the Amsterdam norms neatly reflected Nella’s own feelings of not belonging.

I think this may be more enjoyable second time around; not only because details might be more readily picked up but also because I wouldn’t be waiting for evidence that my assumptions were right!  So perhaps I’ll pick this one up again in a few months and see if I can sum up my feelings any better after a repeat read…

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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