The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The Miniaturist

Five words from the blurb: truth, hidden, obsession, betrayal, love

The Miniaturist is set in Amsterdam during the 17th century and follows 18-year-old Nella Oortman as she begins a new life in the city. She marries Johannes, a rich merchant, but unfortunately he barely notices her and the household is packed with secrets. She feels isolated, but when she complains her husband buys her a miniature version of their house, including exact replicas of everything in it. This strange gift seems to have some magical properties and Nella soon becomes captivated by the miniature world.

Eight dolls are laid out on a strip of blue velvet. They are so lifelike, so delicate, items of such unreachable perfection. Nella feels like a giant, picking one up as if it might break.

This book started off really well – it was atmospheric, contained well developed characters and had an original premise that intrigued me.

Unfortunately everything came apart in the middle. The plot began to flag and many of the best elements of the book disappeared. As the forward momentum was lost I increasingly noticed flaws within the writing.  There were many wonderful elements and some of the scenes will remain with me for a long time, but those looking for outstanding literature will be disappointed.

The magical realism aspects of the novel were wonderful and had a creepiness that few other books have been able to create, but unfortunately these weren’t followed through. There was no adequate resolution to this thread of the story and so the ending lacked the special spark it deserved.

This review sounds negative, but I did enjoy the reading The Miniaturist. My criticisms are mainly due to the fact that the first half of this book was outstanding so I felt let down as the brilliance began to unravel. The positives do outweigh the negatives and the multiple elements of this book, coupled with its readability, make it a great book club choice – I could discuss it for hours!

Recommended to anyone looking for an intriguing read!


The thoughts of other bloggers:

Jessie Burton is as good as Daphne Du Maurier. Utter Biblio

It is intelligently written although it is not for readers who want speedy action and easily-definable characters.  The Elephant in the Writing Room

Nella feels less like a character than a vehicle through which Burton can make social commentary on the life and times of women in 17th century Amsterdam.  Curious Animal


17 replies on “The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton”

It’s on my TBR pile (always!). I like your point about it being a potential good book group book – I will definitely suggest it to my group when it comes out in paperback.

A friend recommended this one to me, so it pinged my radar and I was definitely looking forward to it, so I’m sad to hear that you felt the back half of the book didn’t live up to the first bit. That said, you clearly enjoyed it quite a lot overall, and it sounds like, even with the flaws, it could be a great summer read that is fun and undemanding, great for low-stress reading. Plus, I’m always a sucker for magical realism… Now that I’m home, I’m planning regular trips back to the library, so it’s certainly a title I’ll keep in mind should I see it.

Steph, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this one. I suspect you might be disappointed by the magical realism aspects, but I think you’ll enjoy it overall. I hope your library stock it 🙂

The Literary Stew, Yes, I know exactly why it has been receiving mixed reviews. It is a deeply flawed novel and how much you enjoy it will depend on how sensitive you are to these problems. It has a lot of positives though, so I hope you enjoy it.

Did everything stay fallen apart, or did you feel generally good about the ending? I know you said the magic realism doesn’t really get resolved, but do the other aspects of the story come together in a way that felt reasonable?

Jenny, Everything else was resolved properly, but I found the ending a bit predictable. The ending was good enough, but not as special as I’d hoped it would be.

I hadn’t heard that it contains magical realism, and that alone gives me a bit of pause, but I’m still interested. I love that it’s set in Amsterdam when doll houses were all the rage (for adult women, no less). When I visited the Rijksmuseum, I saw a couple of amazing doll houses, and I’m just generally intrigued by the premise and the time period.

threegoodrats, I think that this book is based upon the dolls houses that you saw and so this book would probably have added appeal to you. I hope you decide to give it a try and enjoy it as much as I think you might!

I couldn’t agree more! You described my frustration to a tee! I am discussing with book club tonight and I feel they are all enamored.

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