This is an interesting book. The setting and story are fascinating, at least to me as a fan of historical fiction. This book is set in 17th-century Amsterdam – a compact city that is dominated by canals, the constant threat of flooding, and a secretive society where everyone knows your business.
Jessie Burton’s book was inspired by Petronella Oortman’s real cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. This ornate miniature house becomes a central character in this book. The inanimate objects that are created by the mysterious Miniaturist are central and ever present to the story that unfolds. The only other factual aspect to this story is the main character’s name. Petronella, or Nella as she describes herself, is a young bride arriving in Amsterdam from rural Holland. Her family have arrange for her to marry a man, more than twice her age, who leads a secretive life on the seas as a trader, and in Amsterdam as a privileged (and rich) merchant.
I struggled to get into this book at first, but eventually the mysterious characters, atmosphere, and building and suspenseful climax kept me going. Amsterdam at the time, and possibly even now, in the city where people live in close proximity, where neighbours find it easy to peer into front room windows. In fact, the front rooms are designed for such a purpose. In a world so open, people crave for privacy. And in this 17th century Amsterdam, the teenage bride struggles to learn all of the secrets the city and the family she has joined hold dear. In fact, her fragmented experiences are reflected in the ever present but mostly absent Miniaturist.
This book takes the reader to an utterly believable world and you become immersed in that world. It’s a slightly unusual tale, but on reflection probably quite likely to have occurred in that time period. It is an original and atmospheric story (the book is set in the dark wet winter months, and at times you feel the dampness pervade your thoughts), with a fabulous mix of suspense, love and loss.