The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Dear God I have not read fiction in a long time. After marveling at the book for quite a while (I love beautiful covers), I decided to pick it up properly and read it, back to front. Now as a bookworm will know, I had a very hard time putting it down owing to too many unanswered questions! This book is riddled with mysteries, from the very first time Nella sets her foot on the doorstep of her husband’s house, to the last time she sees her husband in the final chapter. I do not like giving spoilers, so I won’t try and litter this post with any either. Books have this over films- what you look over in a split second you may recognize with a lengthier description.The author possesses the gift of description, in as many words as need be, showing the exact surroundings, bringing in the smell of nutmeg and tallow candles, and bringing you into the world of the Guilds. This book truly is something special- Jessie’s descriptions of the characters and the wonderful setting in Amsterdam make it all come alive, raw and unfiltered, lit only by candlelight.

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Maybe I am too much a child to expect a happier ending, however the plot does not go unsolved- there is sweetness in the solution the author finds. Jessie touches on taboos and boundaries of the Amsterdam elite, in particular dealing with the problems surrounding women and position, and men and expectation. Through Nella, heavily religious Amsterdam is seen through a fresh pair of eyes, and she discovers more underneath the surface of its stuffy rules. She sees secret moments looking out of her window and peeking into the offices and warehouses. There is a strong sense of foreboding throughout the book- breaking taboos is equally important to the author as is addressing them. Every character in the book hides behind a mask that Nella tries to take off with the help of the mysterious Miniaturist. The author shows how the city was more liberal in some parts, with women allowed to go outside without chaperones and great displays of wealth through merchant feasts and jewels, and how it was still Calvinist, with pious Church connections, influential priests and banned effigies of men. This contrasts with the actions in side the house, where nothing seems as it should be.

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The book should be particularly noted for its imagery- Jessie paints a perfect scene that brings to mind more courteous times, when food was scarce and when a word out of line by the merchants could send a whole business rolling away. The period described looks to discovery- new lands were explored by richer nations like the Dutch Republic, bringing back unusual objects and spices, and yet the wealthy merchants described in the book are not ostentatious with their wealth- in fact, the Nella’s house is scarcely decorated, while the expensive decorations went to private studies and bedrooms. This all influences the girl from the countryside, bringing her new responsibilities that require more than she had bargained for. Perhaps as a reader I ask too much for some clearer explanations on some of the climaxes, however the style is faultless.

I would highly recommend this book to readers interested in getting to know old Amsterdam and who want to find a wonderful tale of loss and confusion in darker times. 8/10

 

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