The Miniaturist – by Jesse Burton

 

I lent my hard copy of The Miniaturist to a friend only 3 days after I’d finished reading it, which was a mistake, because it is, without doubt, the sort of book which I would like to read again. I’m a speed reader, which means I can get through most books (there are obvious exceptions) at a rate my friends and family disbelieve. When I had more time to read i.e BC (Before Children) I would pick up a book in the morning and have finished it by the afternoon. It’s fair to say I then usually forgot about these books, often because they were forgettable but also because I hadn’t necessarily given them the time they deserved.

I picked this book up not knowing anything about it and was instantly transported in to a world which was cold, foreign, exotic, hostile and dark. On the face of it, it is a coming of age story, the likes of which we’ve seen before, but the difference becomes quickly apparent. Jesse Burton has managed to create characters which are as three dimensional as the dolls sent to Nella by the Miniaturist and seemingly as life like.

Through the eyes of Nella, the young maiden who is our heroine, Amsterdam is portrayed as unforgiving and harsh and yet full of opportunity and life. She arrives from the Dutch countryside and is meant to possess the house where the story is set, as a new and young wife to a rich merchant of Amsterdam. The book had a way of inhabiting my thoughts to the extent that I had mad dreams every night after reading it. I dreamt of the grand hallway in that forbidding, secretive house. I dreamt about Otto and the odd cross over of his devotion to his master and the element of slavery which had landed him in that strange land of trade and commerce. My brain threw up images of Marin and her dream of life as a woman of Amsterdam where marriage wasn’t the best you could hope for and the way her fate laughs in the face of those ambitions. Nella especially has been niggling away at me with her determination and perseverance battling alongside her childishness and naivety.

It’s by no means a perfect book (does that even exist; discuss) and yet it is so full of depth and flavour that it is the sort of book I will want to read again, this time not speed reading it, to pick up any details I missed first time round. I’m so in awe of anyone who can produce something like this, because surely this is not what Jesse Burton knows (and I was always told that you had to write about what you know) and yet to read it is to be there and to be there is to feel the characters pain and grief and knowledge.

It has made me want to go back to Amsterdam and to learn about the city, rather than just enjoy the city, and that’s a great achievement for any book. To make you want to experience more. As Dr Seuss said ‘the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go”

In short, this book will transport you to another place, another time and make you question what is real, what is right and what is good. I loved it.

2 comments

  1. Clare · · Reply

    i read the Miniaturist straight after The Goldfinch and Amsterdam became my home. Both books are so immersive (is this the right word?) that when I wasn’t reading I wanted to cycle to work and sit in cafe bars by waterways. I loved the details of the characters in the Miniaturist. As you say they are not perfect but that made me love it perhaps a little more. Can’t wait to see what she writes next.

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    1. You’re totally right, they are both immersive. I inhabited New York & the desert whilst reading The Goldfinch, much as I inhabited New England whilst reading the secret history. I love it when a book does that. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

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