3.5 / 5
"The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends."
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.
Have you ever read a book where you spent the entirety waiting for the story to begin? Only to realize you've gotten through the whole thing and wait, that WAS the story? That is how I felt about this book, although I can't put my finger on exactly why. I did really like it, too - I just felt like there was more coming, perhaps in just the next chapter, even when there never was. I did love the really interesting historical look at homosexuality in 17th century Amsterdam. I did love learning about the Burgermasters (which actually came up in another book I am reading right now, too! fancy that). And I did so love the idea of all of the miniature-scale items which are described in the book - I am a sucker for anything reproduced on a small scale! However, I am uncertain as to why it was called "The Miniaturist" in the first place, as the actual miniaturist & her work seemed entirely peripheral to the story - incidental, almost. They played no real role in the story, as far as I could tell. Perhaps that was because I lean toward discounting the vaguely magical elements of the book, but even were they taken into account, I don't understand quite how the miniaturist has any sort of effect on the story. Except perhaps in showing the women that they are to create their own destinies. Which, considering all that happens to them, I figured would be pretty darn obvious.
I did like the feminist undertones of this book, though - ultimately it ended up being women (well, a band of misfits, including one male) taking care of themselves, in 1686. Not the easiest time for women to do that, but they were able to find their own ways of getting by. I appreciated that the author didn't spend a lot of time expounding on the strength of the females, but rather simply showed their actions by way of explaining their unique-at-the-time characters and reactions.
One thing, though, which I find telling: I cannot for the life of me recall quite how this book ended! Granted, I did finish it a couple of weeks ago, and am writing my review late, but - I feel as if that indicates a kind of weak ending if I am not certain I can recall how things were tied up at the end. Argh!
I'd recommend this book for the strong feel of experiencing 17th century Amsterdam, and for the stances it takes on sexual orientation and feminism (not to mention the story that is woven to make these not feel so much like political statements as much as simply stories about people - which I think is always so important). Read, and be transported.
Support Shelf Notes! Purchase your copy of this book here:
(NB: Paperback will be available June 20, 2015.)