The Miniaturist takes place in Amsterdam in 1686 with the main character being Nella Oortman. She marries Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant trader who she eventually finds out has a deep dark secret. I won’t ruin it but let’s just say you should be grateful you weren’t living in Amsterdam in 1686. Johannes has a very protective sister named Marin. She runs the household and also has a hidden secret.
Ms. Burton weaves a very readable story in which Johannes gives Nella a cabinet for her wedding present instead of a night of passion. The cabinet is modeled after the house they live in. Each room is decorated exactly including the people who live in it. The miniaturist is a person in the novel who creates miniature pieces of furniture or items she wants to fill her cabinet with. This cabinet becomes Nella’s world because she is left bored in her house while her husband is off traveling the world. Her only contact with people is her staff at the house or an unhappy business associate of Johannes.
It’s not the world Nella expected when she moved to Amsterdam but she tries to make the best of it. She’l take any sliver of affection form her husband. Nella expected her life to be filled with being a mother to many children and live the life of as a wealthy merchant’s wife. Instead, she is forced to live in world of miniature dolls and small furniture that resembles her life.
The story takes a turn when pieces she never ordered start arriving at her door that only someone living inside the house could know. for example when tragedy strikes at the house with one of the household pets she looks at the piece representing him and notices a red stain on it. Was it there when she got the piece or did somehow appear after she received it? Nella spends the rest of the novel trying to find the miniaturist wanting to know how they know so much about her life and what her place in it is.
Ms. Burton creates this world within a world for the reader because her writing truly make you feel like you are one of her small miniature people observing life in her house. I read a lot of first novels where you end up feeling disappointed by all the hype or the author just tries too hard. The Miniaturist is not that kind of book. Ms. Burton knows how to tell a story and if this is her debut I expect she will be writing for years to come.