Book Review: The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist
Published By: Ecco
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Page Count: 400
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Genre: Adult - Historical Fiction

Eighteen year old Nella arrives in Amsterdam from her country home, ready to start her new life as wife to Johannes Brandt, one of the city’s wealthy merchants. Life in the Brandt house is not exactly what Nella expected. Her husband is rarely home, and when he is, he spends his time locked away in his study. Nella is left in the company of Johannes’ forbidding sister, Marin, and the family’s two, rather unconventional, servants. 

 When Johannes’ presents Nella with an elaborate cabinet house as a wedding gift, she engages the services of a miniaturist to fill it with furniture. However, the pieces that arrive surpass Nella’s expectations, and it seems that the miniaturist knows far more about life in the Brandt house than Nella herself. Who is this mysterious craftsperson, and how do they know so much and what will they send next? 

 I very much enjoyed the setting of this book. I knew nothing about 17th Century Amsterdam, although the Dutch East India Company (or VOC) I was more familiar with. The city, and its inhabitants, are described beautifully in Burton’s prose. 

 Nella develops immensely as a character, from the shy but hopeful country girl, to the seeker of secrets, and finally to the stately wife managing her husband’s business affairs. 

 The pious nature of Amsterdam society, and the pronouncements of Pastor Pellicorne, the city’s religious leader, add to the sense of foreboding and impending doom that pervade much of this novel. After a slow start, I felt compelled to keep reading to find out exactly how the miniaturist knew so much. The ending left me slightly frustrated, with unanswered questions. That may have been the author’s intention, but I prefer my loose ends to be neatly tied. 

 The Miniaturist is beautifully written and imagined, and well worth a read for lovers of historical fiction.

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam-a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion-a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

"There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…"

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 world 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' gift helps Nella to 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, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.


  1. I have seen this book around but haven't quite examined it in detail before this! Now I have to add it onto my TBR! I am currently living in the Netherlands, so knowing it is set in Amsterdam stole my heart, especially as most don't choose a setting like this ^^


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