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Good historical setting, but doesn't quite gel
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.