Eighteen-year-old Nella starts her new life as a married woman at her husband’s home in Amsterdam. He is a wealthy merchant and it is an arranged marriage. But Nella finds herself in a world she did not expect: a husband never at home, an abrupt and unwelcoming sister-in-law, two servants who behave as if life on the Herengracht is full of secrets. Nella feels always at a disadvantage. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is an intriguing treasure box of a story.
Johannes Brandt’s wedding gift to his wife is a cabinet, a kind of empty doll’s house for a young woman, a miniature of their home intended to be used by a young woman to learn how to run a home. “The accuracy of the cabinet is eerie, as if the real house has been shrunk, its body sliced in two and its organs revealed.” It frightens her but she is unable to formulate why. There is other disturbing imagery to suggest life in the house is not as it first appears. On the dark walls there are paintings of dead animals and at Nella’s first public outing as a wife, to the Silver Guild dinner, Nella meets Agnes Meermans. Agnes wears pearls in her hair, “The pearls are the same size as milk teeth.” Odd.
Nella orders her first miniature objects from a craftsman, a miniaturist, and the story burst into life after a slowish start. First, the three objects Nella orders are chosen as symbols of defiance against her new life. Secondly, the package is delivered by the intriguing Jack Philips of Bermondsey. Who is Jack, is he the miniaturist? Or does the title of the book refer to Nella? How else does the miniaturist know what is happening in Nella’s home, and her mind?
One thing is clear, everything in this book – and in the house on the Herengracht – is not as it seems. I raced through this.
‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton [UK: Picador] Buy now
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