On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.Read more...
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On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office-leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.
But Nella's life changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist-an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways...
Johannes's gift helps Nella pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand-and fear-the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation...or the architect of their destruction?
Enchanting, beautifully written, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.
- ISBN-13: 9780062306814
- ISBN-10: 0062306812
- Publisher: Ecco Press
- Publish Date: August 2014
- Page Count: 397
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-06-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Late 17th-century Amsterdam is the sumptuous backdrop for this debut novel about a young Dutch girl from the village of Assendelft, Nella Oortman, who is chosen to be the bride of Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant with a shocking secret. Not long after Nella’s arrival in the city, her enigmatic husband presents her with a beautifully wrought cabinet, an exact replica of the house in which they live with Brandt’s sister, Marin, and their loyal servants. Nella engages a miniaturist to fill it and begins to encounter mysteries no one is willing to explain, secrets in which everyone in the household is implicated. The elusive miniaturist, too, seems to know more than Nella, as reflected in the tiny dolls and furniture he creates for the cabinet. The artisan may even be able to predict the future: he sends Nella portentous objects she has not commissioned, such as a cradle and a perfect replica of Brandt’s beloved dog stained with blood. As in all good historical novels, the setting is a major character; in this case the city of Amsterdam, with its waterways and warehouses, confectioners’ shops, and kitchens, teems with period detail. Myriad plot twists involve Brandt’s commercial activities, especially the stores of precious sugar cones from Surinam, and the tragic, fatal consequences of illicit love affairs. Strangely enough, however, the central mystery, the miniaturist’s uncanny knowledge of the future, is never solved, and the reader is left unsatisfied. (Aug.)
Artful drama meets historic Amsterdam
Fans of historical fiction will be drawn to The Miniaturist, a fantastical tale from British debut novelist Jessie Burton that takes place in 17th-century Amsterdam. The story begins as 18-year-old Nella Oortman arrives at the home of her wealthy merchant husband, Johannes Brandt. Surprisingly, though, he is nowhere to be found. In his stead is his strictly religious sister, Marin; housemaid Cornelia; and his manservant, a former slave named Otto. Nella, a country girl, is forced to forge her way alone as head of the household.
Upon Johannes’ return, he doesn’t seem remotely interested in visiting the marriage bed. Marin is reluctant to hand over the reins to the household and continues to decide what foods they must eat (plain, cold herring) and how much money they are allowed to spend (practically none, in spite of their wealth). Still, Johannes surprises his new bride with an exorbitant gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home, based on an actual doll house owned by the real-life Petronella Oortman, which can be seen at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Disregarding Marin’s monetary anxiety, Nella commissions a miniaturist to furnish her doll house. The artisan’s work is exquisite, but soon the miniaturist begins creating objects that Nella never asked for and which the miniaturist could not have possibly seen: their whippets, the oil paintings in their bedchamber and finally, replicas of the members of the household. Nella demands that the miniaturist stop, but the exquisitely crafted items keep arriving, slowly morphing to reveal lethal secrets that hide in the Brandts’ walls.
The fantastical elements of the story are intriguing; however, the novel takes a disappointing turn with an unsatisfying resolution to the mystery of the miniaturist. Regardless, The Miniaturist excels in depicting Amsterdam and its wealthy upper class, and lovers of art and of Amsterdam will be drawn to Burton’s imaginative story, which flows as effortlessly as water down a canal.
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Jessie Burton about The Miniaturist.