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on 30 November 2015
I put off reading The Miniaturist because it was so wildly successful upon its release and I hate going into a book on a wave of hype - I am so often then underwhelmed! Set in 1680s Amsterdam, the novel explores the hidden secrets of a wealthy merchant family as they are uncovered through a series of unexpected parcels.

For me, The Miniaturist read as two parallel books which never quite came satisfactorily together. On one hand, the historical novel of the Brandt family is wonderfully researched and portrayed and I loved picturing the vibrant trading city. We have visited Amsterdam ourselves, in midwinter, so I could remember the pretty canals and the bitter, damp cold! Burton does a great job of describing the people, their clothing and food. Especially the food! I was reminded of my hunger while reading Julie Lawford's Singled Out and The Temporary Bride by Jennifer Klinec. The Brandt household's diverse characters sit well together although events do get rather over-melodramatic at the painting-ripping point.

The alternate storyline is that of the eponymous Miniaturist, a model maker employed by new Brandt wife Nella to furnish the lavish doll's house that was her wedding gift. As well as the ordered items, Nella receives others that confuse her. However, as she begins to understand what is really going on in her husband's house, the extra items become scarily prophetic. I liked the idea of the doll's house and the descriptions of its tiny rooms and furnishings. The possibly magical element didn't really fit for me though and I think the novel could have been just as intriguing without this plot device.

The repressive religious beliefs of 17th century Amsterdam compete with its inhabitants' greed for guilders showing everyone to be a hypocrite to some degree. I thought the female characters were more convincing than the male, especially Cornelia and Marin who are great creations. I enjoyed The Miniaturist while I was reading it, but the more I think back over the book now, the less satisfied I am.
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on 9 June 2015
This was a much hyped book. In my temporary Christmas job at Waterstone's I was told to push it at every customer who came to the till. Is it worthy of such hype? Not exactly. It is a beautifully presented hardback; the ideal Christmas gift.

The novel is a sweet and light confection like the delights one finds in the bakers of Amsterdam. The story is set in the seventeenth century. Nella, just eighteen, arrives from the country to marry a rich Amsterdam merchant, Johaness, who ignores her completely. The household consists of Johaness' bitter and cold sister, Marin, a female servant and a black manservant, Otto, from the tropics. Nella is given a dollhouse to amuse herself. The mysterious miniaturist sends pieces to fill the dollhouse whose fashioning suggests a rather too intimate knowledge with the goings on of the house. Nella becomes intrigued and endeavours to find out the identity of the miniaturist. Johanness' dark secret is revealed to all and tragedy befalls the household.

The book is delicately written, Nella is a likeable and relatable heroine and the characters are well drawn, However, I couldn't help feeling that something was missing. The historical details of seventeenth century Amsterdam were fascinating and this was the main interest of the book to me. More could have been made of this. The story had the feel of a Victorian melodrama and was perhaps too flimsy a tale for the hype the book received. I yearned for more depth. The novel felt slow to start but did involve me in the maelstrom from the middle onwards.

Worth reading but I am puzzled by the five star reviews and glowing publicity.
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This historical novel has a really interesting setting: the merchant class of late 17th century Amsterdam.
Eighteen year old country girl Nella is happy to marry Johannes but soon finds life very difficult in her new household. Johannes’s spinster sister Marin seems to be very much in charge of the house and Nella struggles to assert herself. Also in the house is Cornelia, an orphan maid and Otto, an African servant who has been brought back by Johannes from one of his travels abroad.

Nella is confused and puzzled when Johann avoids all physical contact with her. She soon realises this is a house full of secrets. She is offended when her husband present her with a cabinet containing an exact replica of their house – she wants to be in charge of a real house not a play one. Soon strange things begin to happen when she orders some miniatures to go in the house. She never meets the mysterious “miniaturist” who creates beautiful and intricate objects – but they begin to arrive unsolicited and seem to predict the future.

The creation of social life in the late 1600s is well done. I also like the way in which Nella gains an understanding of the family dynamics and finally reaches an accommodation with a very difficult situation. Having said that, it was a bit of a soap opera in parts!

The weakest aspect was the mysterious miniaturist. I was waiting for a rational explanation but this never arrived.
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on 26 June 2015
I was really looking forward to this book, I am not sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn't this. The writing is long and tedious, the locations limited and she seems to describe a single location multiple times and yet other instances when a description of the setting would be useful, just skims over it. Many things seem to happen with little or no follow through or reasoning and I found myself struggling to believe many aspects.
Character development seemed to flick backwards and forwards as if the author couldn't quite decide how the characters should behave and reactions I would have expected from the character didn't happen making me question their behaviour previously.

I am not sure why this book is called the Miniaturist because you could have quite easily removed the entire dolls house without changing the story. I feel very let down that this plot line wasn't followed through and just seems to have been abandoned when the author got bored with it.

I struggled through the book and only felt it actually got going in the last couple of chapters, meaning I was left feeling cheated that the book finished when I was finally interested. It seemed to end as soon as there were some actually difficulties for the characters to face.

I hadn't realised that Patronella Brandt was the real life doll house owner until after I read the book. I feel quite insulted on her behalf. The story in the book would have been tremendously salacious at the time and I can't imagine this woman would have approved at her name being tarnished in this way. I agree with a previous reviewer that another name should have been imagined for this character. It seems very disrespectful.
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on 5 October 2014
I didn't believe in the characters. Everyone spoke using the same voice, regardless of their gender or social status, and their behaviour unfolded in ways which didn't make sense. One minute a character is nervous and provincial, feeling out of her depth; the next she is asserting herself and challenging people without, apparently, a second thought. One character passionately kisses another in the middle of a violent scene, for no obvious reason, and it is not questioned by anybody, nor ever mentioned again. The act, and the other character's reaction to it, made no sense.

I didn't believe in the relationships. One minute a character is so shocked and repulsed they take to their bed for days; the next minute they accept it and carry like nothing happened, defending them unconditionally against other people who are shocked and repulsed. Nella and Johanne's relationship develops and matures despite them spending hardly any time together. There is a big plot twist involving a secret relationship despite there being barely any interaction between those characters.

I didn't believe in the plot. Even ignoring the supernatural/miniaturist side show, the plot seemed anachronistic and unlikely.

Worse, I didn't care about the plot. The pace was so slow and repetitive. I felt bored every time Nella set off for the miniaturist's house because it was so obvious that something would happen to stop her reaching it, or if she did there would be no reply. There wasn't any sense of anticipation about it because I didn't believe anything interesting would happen even if she did make contact with her. The twists were predictable. I didn't see the point of the miniaturist. The existence of the cabinet house and the miniaturist didn't add anything to the story. Nella never makes any sense of it, and doesn't learn anything from it.

Despite the apparently supernatural powers of the miniaturist, the writing didn't create any sense of 'magic'. Instead, the prose was pretentious, overblown and tedious.

On a wider note, I felt annoyed on behalf of Petronella Oortman that Burton appropriated her name and her doll's house, creating an entirely fictional and salacious story around her life. It felt non-consensual, and unnecessary. I understand that she felt inspired by seeing the cabinet in the Rikjsmuseum when she was in Amsterdam on holiday. I don't understand why she felt the need for the object in her story to be that exact cabinet, owned by a woman named Petronella Oortman/Brandt, married to a man named Johannes Brandt, when all other details about her life were going to be fictional. The book is not a fictionalised biography, so why did Burton not just think of some names for her characters? It seems entitled.

I am bemused by the hype.
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on 18 November 2015
A friend lent me this novel as she enjoyed it. Critics and Waterstones have given it high praise. The cover notes promised “love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth”. The cover itself was alluring with an intriguing dolls’ house. Surely I was in for a fabulous read.

Sadly, I found this novel so disappointing.

I thought the descriptions of period detail dull and stifling, as though the author had done so much research she was keen to put in as much as possible rather than use it simply to add richness and authenticity.

I felt the storyline under-developed with the intriguing minituarist’s story coming to nothing. I thought the characters lacked depth too, the female protagonist, Nella a young woman aching for intimacy with her husband and trying to find her role in her new married life felt too modern and uninspiring.

Her husband is one moment described as” handsome with laughing eyes” the next “aged with craggy lines and drooping eyelids”. Here is a character with sexual feelings at odds with what society accepts and what could have been a complex fascinating insightful study just isn’t developed.

I thought the ending which I presume, was to symbolise Nella’s pent up frustration being finally released a bit contrived.

Ms Burton says she was inspired by a doll’s house and whilst I’m sure she genuinely enjoyed reading about the period, I have read so many novels where the authors’ clear passion and excitement for the period they are writing about resonates through their books that this novel pales in comparison. I think I just didn’t warm to this author’s style of writing and felt it a plod rather than a pleasure. It just didn’t work for me.
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VINE VOICEon 7 June 2015
I enjoyed reading "The Miniaturist", an exquisitely written novel set in Amsterdam in 1686/87. It tells the tale of a teenage country girl who marries a wealthy ,middle aged merchant and comes to live in his household in Amsterdam. She struggles to assert herself to begin with,playing second fiddle to her sister in law and being curiously ignored by her new husband. Her husband presents her with a cabinet that is a miniature of her new house and she gets a miniaturist to populate it. However the figures she gets are not what she expected and they seem to have a mysteriously prophetic quality about them. Meanwhile her husband is struggling to offload a large consignment of sugar and is revealed to be hiding a dark secret. His is not the only shocking secret to be found in this dysfunctional household though and the young bride,Nella, finds herself thrown into a maelstrom of controversy,confusion and despair as events unfold. This book is beautifully written, the characterisation is strong and 17th Century Amsterdam in all it's detail comes vividly to life. The only unsatisfying aspect of the novel was its failure to give the reader more insights into the motivation and purposes of the shadowy miniaturist and who she represented. However "The Miniaturist" is an engaging read with an original storyline. Evocative with lots of twists and turns and surprises.
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on 31 May 2015
The Miniaturist - Jesse Burton (Picador)

Without a doubt this is beautifully written, with great characters, a great setting and much intrigue. It's written from an interesting point of view too, third mostly, but the tense is immediate, as if we are witnessing events directly rather than trailing slightly behind real-time which is the standard for third person POV. It takes us into an interesting world, the city state of Amsterdam circa 1686 where merchants are the law as long as they maintain respectability in a puritanically Christian country. Petronella, our heroine, is plucked from rural ordinariness to high society life, when just eighteen she is married to successful and very rich local merchant Johannes Brandt. Nella is naive and nervous and her marriage very quickly turns out to be not what it seemed. Johannes gives Nella a gift of a cabinet with a miniature version of their house inside and the Miniaturist whose employed to supply puppets for this house seems to has some sinister, almost supernatural powers of prescience. The tragedies and travails befalling the household are picked out in miniature in the puppets and furniture supplied. An unexpected pregnancy for example, presaged by the arrival of a miniature cradle. It all gets very spooky and intriguing and then...flops utterly and completely.

A book much feted, Waterstones book of the year, Richard and Judy loved it, people have got very excited about it. Four hundred pages later however I am left feeling ambivalent and slightly cheated. The Miniaturist is easily the most interesting thing about the story and whilst the plot (nothing to do with the Miniaturist) works as a historical narrative it never actually delivers in the areas where the expectations of this reader were. It's called the Miniaturist so you'd expect that to be the focal point of the story, but the demise of Brandt's merchant empire and his entire household has absolutely nothing to do with the small dolls being supplied by the ever mysterious Miniaturist. We are given some pappy nonsense to explain the Miniaturist's prescient but the explanation is unsatisfying. It's as if this book tried to be two things, a spooky, supernatural mystery and a main-stream historical drama and ended up wedged between both themes in a manner it couldn't extricate itself from.

Enjoyable, but not stand out for this reader in the way it has clearly been for so many others. I clearly missed something but it felt to me like Jesse Burton was never clear enough in her own mind what the theme was. A beautifully constructed world and a great historical tragedy, but The Miniaturist was always an adjunct to that drama in a way that was never successfully reconciled.

*** Three Stars
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on 8 January 2016
Very disappointed by this in the end.

The book is well written, describing life in Amsterdam for a newly wed girl from the countryside. As a historical fiction novel the characters work well and a multitude of possibilities could be explored for a cracking storyline. The introduction of the mysterious "miniaturist" of the title and the arrival of beautiful but prophetic miniature models introduces a supernatural element. This is why I bought the book, the mystery and allure of the Miniaturist bound to well written historical fiction set in Amsterdam.

So what went wrong. The 'miniatures' theme peters out into a total dead end, is not explained satisfactorily and it appears that the author just gave up on it in the end. Perhaps she just couldn't explain it herself after winding deeper and deeper into a supernatural aspect.

So what a pity, a really well written book that fails to explain the reason for including the title theme. One of those books that you reach the end of and think - "is that it?" and swipe the e-reader frantically searching for the missing ending and explanations that ultimately are not provided.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I wonder if I have missed something with this novel. Other reviewers have said that they see it as a fairy tale for adults; well, I'm afraid I just couldn't see that connection. I really didn't get swept up in this novel - I felt that the characters just seemed superficial, the pace of the book was very slow and the story failed to pique my interest.
So, although I seem to be in the minority here, I am sorry to say that it just wasn't my cup of tea.
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