Why I read it: The premise and gorgeous cover
grabbed my attention when it was
published, and it’s been sitting on my shelf calling to me for a long time. I’m also using it for the 2017 PopSugar Reading Challenge task “A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited.”
Who I’d recommend it to: I’m not sure I would recommend it.
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ (2.5 stars)
What it’s about:
In 16th century Amsterdam, eighteen year old Petronella “Nella” Brandt (nee Oortman) has married Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant. When she arrives at her new home, her expectations of what her life will be are quickly dashed and she finds herself lonely, confused, and frustrated. Her husband spends most of his time at home locked in his study, leaving Nella to deal mostly with her spinster sister-in-law, Marin, who is controlling and hostile. Johannes presents Nella with a lavish cabinet house–an exact replica of their own home–as a wedding gift, and encourages her to furnish it as a means of entertaining herself. When she requests the services of a miniaturist, she gets more than she bargained for with the eerily realistic pieces she receives, and the secrets they help her uncover.
The more she discovers about the new people in her life, and the secrets they hold, the more she grows to fear their precarious situation. In this pious society, money and God are worshipped as equals by many, but she soon finds that wealth can only help so much. Only one person seems able to see it all–the truth, the lies, and possibly the fates of them all–the miniaturist. But the miniaturist is elusive, and Nella doesn’t know if the strange gifts she’s receiving for her cabinet house are meant to serve as a warning that might save them, or something more sinister.
This book was so hyped when it came out, and the combination of that, the description, and the gorgeous cover landed it on my TBR list pretty quickly. I went into this with fairly high expectations, but unfortunately I wasn’t as enthralled as many people seem to be.
I found most of the characters difficult to like or sympathize with, and I only really liked Cornelia and Hanna (the latter being a minor character). Johannes was a character I think I could have liked, if we’d gotten to know him better. Nella was annoying for me, and I found her character most unbelievable, particularly how she handled the revelation she received about her husband. Marin, Johannes’s sister, was mostly just awful. She treated Nella horribly, and I had a difficult time believing she could have conducted herself the way she did during the time period, but given what little we know of Johannes, who knows. The Meerman’s were atrocious, and frankly I hope they pay for the things they did. The same goes for Jack. I can’t really comment on Otto, because he wasn’t focused on much, but I think I would have liked him. Some of the interactions were so unbelievable, or even ridiculous. I just couldn’t imagine it really happening the way it was written, if these characters were real. (Maybe I have a more difficult time with suspension of disbelief or something, or maybe this book just wasn’t for me.)
One thing I meant to mention, but had to come back to add because I forgot, is the chapter length. I have a preference for shorter chapters, and this book has them, which I found really nice. Each chapter moved smoothly and I never had the feeling of, “Ugh, will this ever end?” like I do with some books with longer chapters.
This book was really difficult for me to stay interested in, at least for about the first half. I think it took me a little over 2 weeks to read the first 200 pages, but then I finished the second half in one evening. I kept expecting there to be more to the story than there was, and I don’t think anything surprised me. I wish it had kept me guessing, but it didn’t.
I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style. At times it seemed like the antiquated was being forcefully combined with modern language, and it didn’t work for me. I can’t say much about the historical accuracy, because I know next to nothing about the Netherlands in the 17th century, but (from what little I do know, combined with what I know of other parts of Europe around that time) I think the author did do a reasonable amount of research, which is appreciated. ****Spoiler**** The ending honestly really annoyed me, even after I went back and re-read the cryptic first chapter. I continued reading this, despite my lack of investment in the story or characters, to get answers about the miniaturist, and we really don’t learn anything of significance.****end spoiler****
This isn’t a book I would recommend to many people, but I’m not saying it isn’t worth reading. The concept was interesting, and I think the book was well-written enough to be enjoyable by some people, so I’m sad to say I wasn’t one of the many who did love it. If one is ever written, I would possibly consider reading a sequel, but I definitely would not purchase it or rush to find a copy. That said, I am considering reading more by Jessie Burton in the future, but I’m still undecided and therefore will borrow from the library.
Have you read The Miniaturist? What did you think?