27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So close to a five-star rating, but for one disappointment
Set in 17th century Amsterdam, The Miniaturist begins with country girl Nella, barely eighteen, arriving at the home of the husband she hardly knows following their recently arranged marriage. Johannes isn't at home, and Nella is immediately drawn into the odd, secretive world of the Brandt household, full of hints, whispers and mysterious arguments over Johanne's...
Published 3 months ago by Joanne Sheppard
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's ok... at best
The review by Natalie B. below pretty much sums this up. After reading the endorsements and other reviews I thought I'd give it a go, but sadly wasn't impressed. By the end I cared nothing for any of the characters (the maid was the only one who made any sense) and they seemed to have really strange relationships (not in an interesting literary way, but rather seeming...
Published 1 month ago by Ms. L. Fox
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's ok... at best,
The review by Natalie B. below pretty much sums this up. After reading the endorsements and other reviews I thought I'd give it a go, but sadly wasn't impressed. By the end I cared nothing for any of the characters (the maid was the only one who made any sense) and they seemed to have really strange relationships (not in an interesting literary way, but rather seeming like I'd totally missed a major event every now and then). The most frustrating thing was that at the end, nothing felt like it was concluded, and the miniaturist was such a minor part of the book that she and the miniature house could have been removed and not affected the story at all in my view. The writing is fine once the story really gets started (about 150 pages in...) and then has a good pace (early pages, not so much), but the annoyances above meant that it was an unsatisfying read.
160 of 174 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a soap opera.....,
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.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating and odd read that promised so much at the beginning,
Wanted so much to love it and I did at first. Loved the writing (at first) and the setting, and Marin's bedroom was my favourite place in the book. But the plot very soon became tedious and unbelievable and the story got stuck like an old record. Sugar. Sugar.... I suspected we'd never meet the namesake of the book and her actions were not fully explained and washed over like.... And I was right. But I didn't want to be right in this instance and I always like to be right.
Nella as a provincial inexperienced girl was unconvincing in her character arc. If she was as bold as she was portrayed towards the end then why didn't she prevent the fate of her hubby as she could so easily have done in the courtroom. "Hey everybody, Frans is lying. He said Johannes satisfactorily traded his sugar but I can prove that's not true - come to the warehouse and see for yourself if you don't believe a young woman. He's not sold one sodden sugar cone!" Bingo. That would have been my satisfactory ending.
And why was Johannes so reluctant to sell the sodden sugar - surely it was his main income and in his best interest and he was Amsterdam's best man for the job?? Or did I miss something! Oh, yes - sorry, for convenience sake! Marin was always on his case about this. It just didn't ring true with his supposed character. He didn't even explain his reluctance well (just conveniently put down to the time of year) but, hello!, isn't Christmas the best time to sell sugar when everyone is stuffing their faces with the stuff?! No apparently it's the worst convenient time of year to sell sugar. What a load of tosh.
Everything seemed so "convenient" and washed over and unexplained - simply because it wasn't plausible and explainable. Very weak plot with holes. And the miniature house at the end that suddenly, inexplicably (again) disppeared from Nella's pocket and into the hands of the other Petronella (!) at the church and into the grave of the woman with the fur-lined robes (first chapter). I bought that. Not. So weak!
Favourite characters: the 2 dogs and Cornelia. Didn't buy into any of the others. And Johannes/Nella relationship so not happening that I didn't even feel for him at the end which should have ripped my soul in half. I cry at strangers saying goodbye in stations. Not a poxy tear. I felt robbed.
Is this one a case of The Emperor's New Clothes, perhaps?
You can see the frustration it brought out in me! A very frustrating and odd read that promised so much.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't believe the hype!,
I am only giving this 2 stars because as a story of 17th century life in Amsterdam this is an okay (just about) read.
However, as others have already pointed out, the development of the characters over such a short period of time make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and one minute they are strong, the next they are weak. And no, you never actually engage or care for any of the characters - I personally wouldn't have anything to do with them if I ever had the misfortune of being anywhere near their social circles!
The "Miniaturist", in the end, turns out to be the book's version of a movie's MacGuffin and you actually feel conned by this when you reach the end of the book. This effect of feeling conned is exaggerated by the opening chapter dangling a carrot to the reader that is never answered in the final chapter.
I'm sorry to be so negative and if someone would like to enlighten me as to where I went wrong then please do so.
To summarize, an okay book if you like historical fiction; a poor book if you were expecting more than that, find something more interesting. It was one of those books I found myself forced to read to the end to see what, if anything, would happen, but eventually realised it was so many hours of my life that I would never get back!
After this, I read "the 1st fifteen lives of Harry August" by Claire North - wow, now there's a book and an author that truly astounded me - read that one instead of this and don't believe the hype.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So close to a five-star rating, but for one disappointment,
Set in 17th century Amsterdam, The Miniaturist begins with country girl Nella, barely eighteen, arriving at the home of the husband she hardly knows following their recently arranged marriage. Johannes isn't at home, and Nella is immediately drawn into the odd, secretive world of the Brandt household, full of hints, whispers and mysterious arguments over Johanne's business affairs. There's Marin, Johannes' domineering spinster sister who seems unwilling to relinquish her role as mistress of the household, and servants Cornelia and Otto - the latter a black footman ostensibly now free after being purchased by Brandt as a slave.
When Johannes does finally return home, his wedding gift to his bride is essentially a dolls' house: an expensively crafted cabinet divided into rooms to replicate the Brandts' own house. Nella, bored and resentful and with Johannes' funds at her disposal, sets about ordering items for the cabinet from a mysterious 'miniaturist' - but more things arrive than she ever requests. Furthermore, each one reveals an uncanny knowledge, even a prescience, of the household which is, it seems, one with plenty of secrets, scandals and surprises.
The historical detail of The Miniaturist is rich and immersive and the characters are brilliantly vivid; I finished the book feeling almost like a part of the household myself. Nella herself is an extremely engaging protagonist, admirably resourceful and determined as well as possessing an appealing capacity for forgiveness that never tips over into weakness. Despite the obvious restrictions placed upon her not only as a woman but also as a resident of the strictly religious Calvinist society of Holland in the 1600s - at one point, the city's burgomasters ban gingerbread men lest their human form be interpreted as Catholic idolatry - Nella is spirited and defiant. It is, in fact, the female characters who ultimately take control in this novel.
How realistic this is might well be up for debate. Certainly some of the characters' attitudes and sensibilities, including Nella's, seem a great deal more modern than one might expect. This undoubtedly gives today's readers an easier ride when it comes to establishing an affinity with them, but it does stretch credibility at times.
My only other issue with this book is the miniaturist of the title. The miniaturist's knowledge of Nella's household and the strange ability of the tiny creations to mirror reality is the central mystery of the novel, an ongoing and gripping plot strand that is woven into the rest of the (not inconsiderable) action. And yet its resolution, while on some levels symbolic, is ultimately unsatisfactory - so much so that it almost feels as if the author set out to write one book, ended up writing another but couldn't quite bring herself to edit out all traces of the original.
That isn't to say that the work of the miniaturist isn't fascinating, or that it adds nothing to the atmospheric quality of the novel - but it seems that this element of the story was simply unsustainable when it came to the need to bring it to an adequate conclusion. It's lucky that there was a great deal else going on in The Miniaturist, or I would have felt a lot more cheated than I did.
In short, I adored the characters that populated the world of The Miniaturist, and I loved the story itself, heartbreaking though it sometimes is. I was also completely drawn in by the exquisitely realised setting and period. If it weren't for the anticlimax towards the end of the novel, this would have been a five-star read.
190 of 214 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful.,
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.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
Initially I resisted this book, as I do all overhyped novels. However, curiosity won out in the end. I had difficulty getting into the story because of the superficial introduction of the characters and setting. I felt I did not believe in this strange household. Then I became more involved and began to think that perhaps it merited its popularity. Even so, some of the writing does not flow, impeded by clunky choice of descriptive adjectives and metaphors. At times, the author seems to be saying "look, aren't I clever!". I am now reaching the end of the book and the plot has become so improbable that it's hard to find a reason to read on. I think the weakness of the book lies in the characterization. We never get to know these characters deeply enough to understand their, often irrational, actions. Like the miniature figures, they are not real in the sense that well-written characters are real to the reader. A better plot would have brought the characters to life. Instead, they remain the author's puppets.
48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good but ...,
I found this book very readable and it flows well. The Miniaturist has lots going for it .. an interesting plot, unusual setting, dramatic twists and characters I cared about. However I was disappointed in aspects of the story, I felt the writing lacked depth at times and was often stilted , particularly when describing very dramatic events which demanded an emotional response yet left me completely cold. I felt at times the characters did and said things that seemed contrived in the face of the event that had just happened and I felt frustrated by it! The mystery of the miniaturist never really came to anything, and although it was an interesting plot device I would have liked to know more detail and background about the characters lives and thoughts, and the plot, which was strong enough to stand alone. It just wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be - but very nearly!
55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sorry…it's awful...,
I liked the central premise of this story, and really wanted to like the book, but the writing is awful. It's overblown and tedious, and is peppered with metaphors and similes that don't work. I thought at first it must have been a (poor) translation, but no. None of the characters are appealing or seem real, the dialogue is completely unbelievable, and there so many holes in the plot; there are a lot of 'surprise' twists that are also fully predictable. The writer has clearly done some research into the detail of life in this era, but not nearly enough to write convincingly. Johanne's dogs, for example, are said to be whippets, a breed that didn't exist until the 19th century, and weren't used as any sort of guard dog. There seems to be little or no understanding of the social mores of the time, either. Just silly. I don't really blame the author - it's her first novel - but I can only imagine she received little or no editorial guidance.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
To be honest I only read this book as it is the next read for my local book group. I know that it has sold very well and that the film options have been bought up with an intention to make a TV series of this, but probably there will be changes to the story for that to come about.
Jessie Burton takes us back to Amsterdam from October 1686 – January 1687, thus we are only talking of a few months. Petronella ‘Nella’ Oortman arrives at the home of her husband, to take up her position as Petronella Brandt, husband of Johannes Brandt. From the very beginning we are taken into a strange world where Nella meets the servants of the house, and Marin, her sister-in-law, before her husband eventually arrives. We can see that this is really a loveless marriage as Johannes ignores his conjugal duties. To be honest it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why.
Taking in bigotry in all its different forms we read of the Brandt household who seem to be so modern and liberal in their attitudes at home, whilst being secretive, and also of the hypocrisy of the world they live in. It does seem rather remarkable when you think about it that Otto the servant, who is black is stared at with such fascination when you consider that Amsterdam at this period was arguably the most important port in the world and thus the city would be quite busy with foreigners of all colours and nationalities. With people trying to be pious it is of course money that motivates and makes the people we read of in this book. To Nella who finds her life quite boring Johannes gives her what we would call nowadays a doll’s house, and after commissioning a miniaturist to make items for this house mysterious occurrences start to happen.
This does fall flat in places, as Nella who is supposedly some naive girl from the country suddenly seems to become worldly wise. This does jar, along with the attitudes of the Brandt household, from servants to the family who seem to portray ideas and ideals before their time. It always harms a story when an author tries to plant modern ideas in an historical setting before their time, and there is a lot of that here.
There is some symbolism in this tale, but to be honest the main thing that grates is the mysterious miniaturist who churns out items for the doll’s house, even when not requested to. This is as you read this supposedly a way that this person has of setting the women free and giving them feminist ideas, but it is very clumsy. At times these portions of the story read like a gothic element to the story, or an allegory of God seeing and knowing everything.
If you are looking for something to just while away the time then this may do, but once you start to think about or analyse the story it all seems rather flat and directionless.
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