On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present 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 mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .
Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?
Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, Jessie Burton’s magnificent debut novel The Miniaturist is a story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.
I was intrigued by this back in 2014 but didn’t really see it as a book group choice. After mentioning it to the group a majority wanted to read it, so I popped it down for our February read. I’ve already read a book about a miniaturist featuring ‘dolls-of-destiny’ called The Devil Walks by Anne Fine, and that was a fabulous book and exactly what I expected from reading the blurb. The Miniaturist, however, was probably one of my biggest letdowns I’ve had the misfortune to read. It promised so much but failed to deliver on every level. Well, for me anyway.
As for the group it seemed to be a bit of a mixed bag. A few really disliked it (including myself), some thought it wasn’t bad and a couple really enjoyed it. It seems that the idea and plot behind the novel was what drew everyone in, but the fact that the book didn’t live up to the blurb left you feeling a bit cheated. We expected the miniaturist, the dolls’ house and the dolls themselves to play more of a roll in the actual story. To a certain extent we felt that the miniaturist aspect of the novel could have been removed and the story wouldn’t have changed a great deal, which is baffling considering the story, but that’s how it felt.
Some of us felt that although this is a work of fiction it felt a bit unrealistic in some places. What the main character becomes and how she developes as a character felt a bit unbelievable. In fact, nearly all the characters lacked anything memorable about them and seemed very flat and uninteresting.
We were also left asking questions about the miniaturist as not all the ends were tied up. Was this because the author wanted to leave it open to a sequel? Did they want the reader to make up their own conclusion? Or was it yet another author that had great style and direction but no idea how the ending should be written? We hinted that maybe a spot of magical realism was involved but this wasn’t apparent, and certainly wasn’t answered by the author.
One of the main points that everyone could agree on was that we wouldn’t actually recommend the book. It was quite a forgettable read, and for some of the meeting I genuinely couldn’t remember some of the references that people were making. I desperately wanted to like this book (especially because the cover is an excellent design and looks great on my bookshelf), but I need more than a good cover to get me excited by a book.
We also felt that the book was a little disjointed in areas and if the author had focussed on one main aspect (rather than splitting off into a few directions) that this could have been a much better read. The historical aspect seems to be what saved this book because we genuinely thought that if it hadn’t been set in the 1700s then it really wouldn’t have worked at all. The appeal was there because it seemed intriguing, different and historical, but the intrigue waned, the ‘different’ aspect fizzled out and the historical content could have been better. To be fair, some of our readers enjoyed the atmosphere and information that was given for that period, but it still wasn’t good enough for some.
All in all it was an excellent book group discussion, with some interesting points and opinions, but the book itself was quite a letdown. I guess we just can’t see what others can, but hey, it would be a boring world if we all liked the same things now, wouldn’t it?