Nella Brandt arrives in Amsterdam to her new husband’s house on a cold winters day in 1686. To her dismay, she receives an equally frosty welcome from her sister-in-law Marin, with Johannes, her wealthy merchant groom, nowhere to be seen. Nella struggles to become the “woman of the house” against Marin’s judgemental character and the servant’s apparent defiance. Johannes does not join his wife at night and when he arrives with a cabinet house for Nella to ‘practice’ with, she feels further slighted.
However, she engages the services of a miniaturist who proves to be more than a regular artisan. Nella starts to receive unsolicited items which ring eerily true. As the Brandt household starts to crumble underneath deeply held secrets, Nella desperately attempts to read into the miniaturist’s messages. Can she unravel the mysteries held within the cabinet house in order to save her real house in time?
In The Miniaturist, Burton creates a deeply vivid portrayal of 17th Century Amsterdam. Oppressed and controlled by Calvinist Burgomasters while swimming in imperial wealth, the city is a hotpot of suspicion, gossip and scandal. Johannes represents the very pinnacle of this – an outwardly respectable, successful trader with a young doting wife, but a risk-taker who stands on the precipice of disaster.
Although the setting was 1686, Nella, Johannes and Marin seem transported from the modern times, each with their individual search for freedom. This worked for me, but someone looking for a historical fiction way feel it lacking for accuracy. However, I really enjoyed The Miniaturist. I found it to be well paced with an intriguing plot and couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of the enigma of Marin Brandt in particular.