The Miniaturist

The Miniturist book cover

the miniaturistThe Miniturist
Jesse Burton
Ecco, 2014

Fiction, Historical
400 pages (hardcover)

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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.

-Description from dust jacket


A bit slow to start, but once I got in the spirit, I loved this book. It’s full of the taboos of the time period—homosexuality, women working (the horror!), interracial dating—without being overly scandalous.

Not only does this book tell of Nella’s life and those who share her new household, but it wonderfully describes the time period as well. Detailed descriptions of Dutch paintings are weaved elegantly into the whole of the story, adding to the oppressive tone.

So far this sounds rather dour, but the book is quite interesting and well worth the read. I especially enjoyed the discovery that Petronella Oortman was a real person with a cabinet like the one depicted in this book, though the author’s account is fictional.

I look forward to reading more from this author after this debut performance.


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