Today, July 3rd 2014, saw the release of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. The story centres on Nella Oortman who has left the comforts of a country life that she knows and loves because she has married a successful merchant from Amsterdam. This union, arranged by her mother, is the complete antithesis of what Nella believes to be a good marriage. Her childhood dreams of marrying for love and doing everything that is expected of a good wife are quickly shattered when she enters the home of her husband, Johannes Brandt. She is quickly reminded of her place by her formidable sister-in-law, Marin and she can’t quite get the measure of Johannes who refuses to share their marital bed and only converses with Nella when he is forced to. The only sign of affection (and indeed acknowledgment of their nuptials) comes in the form of a dollhouse that Johannes has specially made as a wedding gift for Nella; one that replicates the Brandt household.
Things aren’t quite as they seem in the Brandt household and Nella finds herself trapped in a world whereby she doesn’t know anyone, she isn’t being supported by her husband or his sister. She has no control over anything. That is until all the secrets and lies begin to unfold.
Admittedly, it took me a while to get fully immersed into The Miniaturist. I could appreciate straight away how atmospheric the novel was and that there was a story itching to be told, I just found it a little slow to begin with. However, as the story begins to unravel it became very hard to put the book down. The parallels between Johannes and Marin’s story are captivating and complex and are held together through both of their burgeoning relationship with Nella, who swiftly becomes the glue to a family that is crumbling around her.
This multifaceted novel explores themes of betrayal, lust, race, sexuality and loyalty. It is hard to determine which of these themes takes precedent. However, the underlying paradox that it is all taking place in a macrocosmic allegory of a dollhouse. Burton manages to make you care about each of these issues. Much in the same way that she makes you care about these characters, even when you don’t necessarily agree with their actions.
Overall, The Miniaturist is one of those books that will stay with you once you have read it, however, for me personally it was a slow burner.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is available now.