4 out of 5 stars
Petronella Oortman (Nella) arrives in Amsterdam in 1686, to join her new husband - successful businessman Johannes Brandt. He is seldom home, and she is left at the mercy of his sister Marin. Brandt's wedding gift to her is a beautiful dolls house, a miniature of her new home, and she engages a miniaturist to make objects to go in it. Nella's first commission is exquisite. She befriends the maid, Cornelia, who has a habit of listening at keyholes and Otto, who becomes a trusted companion.
Nella’s employment of the mysterious miniaturist takes a sinister turn, when the miniatures turn out to be more than slightly prophetic, and when objects that are not commissioned start being delivered.
This is a brave and bold first novel by Jessie Burton. The writing style is beautiful and suits the engrossing storyline in its rich yet secretive style. The research seems effortlessly woven into the surroundings, setting and habits of the characters.
The miniaturist is not a main element of the story, instead the intrigue that surrounds the relationships that Nella finds herself caught up in are centre-stage.
The story is gripping, somewhat surprisingly, and takes many twists and turns down its dark corridors of previously unexplored territory. Jessie Burton creates a world that mirrors the house and its miniature – shadowy, eerie, with unexpected ghosts and surprises. Nella must confront all these and face down her deepest fears in order to overcome.
Highly recommended for the reader with a sense of adventure and appreciation of the unusual. Not a light or easy read. I was left feeling that I had spent the afternoon in a haunted house, or an abandoned funfair. It didn’t make me smile, but did make me grateful for my warm, cosy existence.
You may also enjoy The Muse by the same author. Or read my previous review - Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Here are all my reviews and recommendations.