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The Miniaturist

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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.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published July 3, 2014

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About the author

Jessie Burton

9 books3,386 followers
Jessie Burton studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, where she appeared in productions of The House of Bernarda Alba, Othello, Play and Macbeth. In April 2013 her first novel, The Miniaturist, was sold at an 11-publisher auction at the London Book Fair, and went on to sell in 29 other countries around the world. It was published by Picador in the UK and Holland in July 2014, and the USA in August 2014, with other translations to follow. Radio 4 commissioned it as their Book at Bedtime in July 2014. Her second book, The Muse, set in a dual time-frame, during the Spanish Civil War and 30 years later in 1960s London, was published in 2016. Jessie's first novel for children, The Restless Girls, will be published in September 2018.

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5 stars
27,745 (19%)
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51,854 (37%)
3 stars
42,386 (30%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 14,235 reviews
Profile Image for Lucy Bignall.
24 reviews13 followers
March 25, 2015
I found this book very confusing and the hype of it, even more so.

For one thing, I found it very readable - very hard to put down.

On the other hand, I found the characters very unbelievable. I thought it highly unconvincing that an eighteen year old girl from the country would have had such wisdom and assurance and grown to have such acceptance and respect for Johannes as quickly as Nella did - especially as there was very little record of the two of them having much to do with each other, until he was arrested.

In spite of the fact that much has been said re the author's research into the time period, I often found myself thinking that Nella's moral philosophy and knowledge of the world - i.e.when she compares Marin's mood to an unexploded bomb - seemed far too modern.

Ultimately, I found the book very disappointing. I was intrigued by the mystery of the miniaturist and when I found out the truth it was like a damp squib - I felt it was too easy and there didn't seem to be any reason for it. The end of the book left we wondering what the point was, what had been achieved, both by the characters and by my spending my time reading it.
But kudos must go to the writer for being a good story teller.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
June 1, 2023
The death of Nella Oortman’s father left the family in difficult straits, saddled with unexpected debts and a declining standard of living. But the widow finds a suitable match for Nella, in a successful Amsterdam merchant and trader. As he travels extensively, the wedding is a quick affair, and it is a month before he will return to his home. In October of 1686, Nella arrives there, in a very exclusive part of the city. She is greeted by her new husband’s sister, Marin, who makes her feel as welcome as a case of influenza, and who just might make you think of Mrs. Danvers.

Burton says “When writing my hero, Johannes, I had this guy in mind.”

As a wedding gift to his 18-year-old bride 39-year old Johannes Brandt acquires for her a cabinet, a kind of doll house that mirrors the Brandt home. Nella engages the services of a miniaturist, a craftsperson, to help fill the spaces. What she receives is far more than she expected, as the pieces reflect a bit too closely persons and events in the family’s life, some frighteningly so. Also, they do not always remain exactly as they were when she’d received them. And they arrive with Delphic messages. Do these tiny constructions predict the future, reflect their owners’ fears and concerns, reveal secrets, tell truths, or offer misdirections? Nella determines to find out who this mysterious miniaturist is and what is behind these small objects.

Burton did considerable research to get her 17th century details right.
I have a bibliography as long as my arm. And then there are first-hand resources—maps, paintings, diaries, prices of food, inventories, wills—and the physical city of Amsterdam itself. I first went in 2009, which is when I saw the house in the Rijksmuseum, and then again August 2012 for my birthday – with a long list of questions and locations to visit post-fourth draft. Where did they bury the bodies in the Old Church? How many windows on the front of a gable? How did they winch furniture in? A lot in the book is all historically true in terms of life in the city… - from the Richard Lee interview
Nella’s search and her coming of age occur in a difficult time and place. The Amsterdam of the late 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age, is a world financial and military capital, a harsh, unforgiving place, where human failing and difference is not be tolerated, where neighbors are encouraged to spy and report on neighbors, (yes, very much like your office) and where it is always a contest whether the worship of gold or god will hold sway in any given circumstance. The two domains cross paths frequently.
It is this city. It is the years we all spend in an invisible cage, whose bars are made of murderous hypocrisy.
It is a time when being a woman was much more of a challenge than it is today. Marriage, paradoxically, was seen by some as the only way for women to secure any influence over their own lives. But what if a woman wanted something more, something of her own, the opportunity to be the architect of her own fortune, and not submit to a life in a golden cage. Nella may have stepped into a wealthy man’s world, but she must still take care for the many traps that have been laid by a cold society and those jealous of her husband’s success and of her. And there are challenges as well with her marriage, which was not quite what she had bargained for.
I wanted to create women who are not more ‘strongly female’ or ‘stronger than other females’, or ‘strong’ because they are braver than men, or can physically lift more saucepans or anything like that. I just wanted some women who for once are not defined by any other ideal than that they are human. - from the Richard Lee interview
Images that inspired Nella and Marin

Jessie Burton has written a dazzling first novel. The Miniaturist presents readers with a worthy mystery, and maybe a bit of magic, offering enough twists and turns for a figure skating contest, opening tiny door after tiny door to reveal the secrets of Brandt’s household. This is a look at the Dutch golden age that will resonate with contemporary gender, race, religious and power issues. The author offers just enough imagery to enhance without overwhelming, and breathes life into an array of compelling characters. In addition, Burton paints this world with the eye of a true artist, and does it all in a book that you will not want to put down. It will require no Dutch courage to get through this one. To have crafted The Miniaturist is no small achievement. Jessie Burton has written a book that seems destined to be huge.

The dollhouse of the real Petronelle Oortman, currently in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

This review is cross-posted at Cootsreviews.com

Review first posted - April 4, 2014
Release date in the UK – July 3, 2014
Release date in the US – August 26, 2014
Trade Paper - US - 6/2/15

The BBC aired a three-part series of The Miniaturist in 2017. It received mixed reviews.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

One must wonder what London-resident Burton thinks of actors, given how she portrays one here, and given that she has worked as an actress, while toiling as an executive assistant to bring in a few guilders. Here are links to the author’s personal webpage and her Twitter feed. She has a few more historical novels in the works. If she continues writing at this level she will be making history instead of writing about it.

My review of Burton's 2016 novel, The Muse

In addition, her Pinterest page is most definitely worth a look

There is a lot of interesting material on Burton in this interview by Richard Lee at the Historical Novel Society site and more here in a piece from The Guardian.

Sugar loaves figure significantly in the story. While I had heard the term Sugarloaf before, my only association with it was with mountains, whether the iconic mound in the Rio de Janeiro harbor, or the host of other mountains across the planet that share the name. Never gave it much thought. But folks with a bit more historical knowledge than me (most of you) would probably know that there was a time when sugar was routinely formed into solid cone shapes for shipping. That Rio hill and its cousins seem a bit more understandably named now.

Here is a link to the wiki entry for sugarloaf, which I found pretty interesting. And another that deals with tools used for handling the stuff. Sweet.


8/29/16 - “I read and pursued The Miniaturist in manuscript for over a year before publication, so utterly passionate was I about its astoundingly beauty and its rich and diverse characters. Jessie has created an exquisite gem, making the world of seventeenth century Amsterdam live and breathe in incredible detail whilst also delivering a fast paced thriller full of intrigue and dark secrets” – Executive Producer Kate Sinclair [of the Production company The Forge]
Profile Image for Regan.
457 reviews110k followers
June 9, 2023

really really beautiful. I was going to give it 4 stars but then I reread the first chapter after I finished AND IT WAS SO GOOD IN CONTEXT.
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
June 12, 2022

I love you. I love you. From back to front, I love you.

this is an remarkably polished and transporting debut novel that has been compared to sarah waters.

which comparison alone should be enough for you to give it a shot, but i'll continue to blather on a bit in case you need more encouragement.

it takes place in amsterdam, in 1686, during that city's golden age, when it was incredibly wealthy because of its trading capabilities, but there was still a great deal of social progress to be made in the areas of racial and sexual tolerance, and gender rights.

petronella oortman finds herself in this bustling metropolis after a conveniently (and quickly) arranged marriage brings her from her small village to the city following the death of her father. she is only 18, and she is a bit out of her depth as she struggles to adapt to the social mores and expectations as the madame of the house. her new husband johannes is twenty years older and, while seemingly very kind, is emotionally and physically distant, as he conducts business both at home behind closed doors and abroad, where he is gone for weeks at a time. she is left in her new home with her husband's unapproachably cold and enigmatic sister marin, and the household help, otto and cornelia. otto is the first dark-skinned man nella has ever seen, and she is innocently fascinated by his exotic appearance, but notices how people on the street stare at him with less-kindly fascination. she begins to see the ugliness of the city under all its gilded ostentation.

johannes arrives home one day with a present for nella - a cabinet house, which is an exact replica of their own house, miniaturized and unfurnished. the abstemious marin is outraged by the extravagance, and nella is offended by what she sees as a toy for a child. resentfully, under orders, she sends out for custom-made pieces to fill it - pieces that she selects specifically as little passive-aggressive jabs which speak to the frustrations and disappointments she feels as the ostensible lady of a house weighed down by an absent husband, iron lady opposition in marin, and no power of her own.

Yes, I will decorate my house, Marin, Nella thinks - with all the things that you detest.

a tiny scrap of marzipan that marin claimed made people "sick in the soul." a miniature betrothal cup that was missing from her hasty wedding. the lute she has been forbidden to touch. her little tantrum backfires, however, and her moment of triumph is short-lived as other pieces begin to arrive for the cabinet house, unordered. eerily accurate miniaturizations of the furnishings and inhabitants of the house, which are ominously attuned to the happenings beneath the roof, and even seeming to predict the future.

the miniaturist is elusive, despite nella's several attempts to get to the bottom of these unsolicited pieces, and to determine how a stranger seems to know so much about the goings-on of her household.

secrets upon secrets upon secrets are discovered, as nella begin to learn how to navigate her new life and come into her own. things happen, both horrible and beautiful, but the story is always addictively compelling.

great writing, superior characters, a stunner of a debut. highly recommended.


come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books249k followers
July 23, 2019

as the stars of heaven for multitude….

How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance,

and your burden, and your strife?”

Deuteronomy 1:10-12

 photo PetronellaOortman_zps8077d70d.jpg
The Miniature Petronella Oortman

Petronella Oortman is barely eighteen years old in 1686 when she marries a rich merchant named Johannes Brandt and moves to his house in Amsterdam. It is unnerving to move so far away from her relatives and all the people she has known her entire life, but it is also exciting to finally escape the boredom of the country and the oppressive slow slide into poverty that her family has been experiencing before, and progressively faster, after her father drank himself to death.

 photo b9cadd33-1a41-4802-af4a-6f058db6fb73_zpsf9b60251.png
The Miniature Peebo!

She has a parakeet named Peebo and very little else to her name when she arrives in Amsterdam. Her husband, a man she barely knows, is not there to greet her, but his sister is.

Madame Marin.

The Mrs. Danvers of Amsterdam.

In theory the household belongs to Nella, but everything is so different from her former life that she ends up doing what little she is allowed to do wrong, and every time she tries to have a conversation with one of her fellow inhabitants she seems to end up inserting one dainty foot between her lips. This isn’t due to the fact that she is spiteful or sarcastic or silly or stupid, but has to do with the plethora of secrets that infest the entire household. They are the unknowable things that make her feel exactly what she is...an outsider.

Cornelia knows.

Well she thinks she knows.

She is the household maid. She is the keyhole listener, a snatcher of pieces of conversations. She looks through keyholes sometimes seeing an arm or a leg, but never seeing the body complete. She fills in the blanks, sometimes correctly, but sometimes not, and those of us who have studied language know how critical getting one word wrong or right can be in having a proper understanding of a situation.

There is Otto as well, a man who wears his foreign heritage in the color of his skin. He is a walking circus, an inspirer of twittering conversations behind hands or for those more bold catcalls of a derogatory nature everywhere he goes. Johannes saved him from dire circumstances, so despite having to live in a hostile city his loyalty to the Brandts keeps him in Amsterdam.

 photo MadameMarin_zpsf220cc1d.jpg
The painting that inspired the author when she describes Madame Marin.

Madame Marin has never married, despite being beautiful and wealthy. She inherited this household at a young age after their parents died and saw no need to exchange it for possibly a less desirable position as a wife. As the plot unfolds we learn more about Marin and the first impressions we have of her turn out to be but a few flakes in a wind blown snowstorm. She turns out to be much more complex and more humanistic than her cold demeanor and her simmering fury will allow the world to see.

”There’s something about Madame Marin. She’s a knot we all want to untie.”

Nella has been in Amsterdam for eleven days and her husband has not visited her wedding bed. For a girl that was expecting to be “made woman” this is confusing and embarrassing. He is always busy, rushing about down to the wharf to conduct business or locked up in his study, when at home, late into the night.

”Nella inhales the air in the boat, the hint of the places he’s been, the scent of cinnamon stuck in his very pores. he smells vaguely of the musky tang she smelled in his study the night he first came home. Her husband’s brown face and his too-long hair, bleached and toughened by sun and wind, trigger an awkward longing--the desire not necessarily for him, but to know how it will feel when they finally lie together.”

He travels the world in an age where most people may never leave the city they were born in or explore further than a few miles from home. Amsterdam is a city of merchants. Greed is the worm that everyone has swallowed. Brandt has turned out to have a gift for negotiation and for swaying men with his charm and wit. He has made many men rich. He is tired of the life and finds he would rather have fluffy, roasted potatoes than a pile of glittering gilders.

”Greed is not a prerequisite for being good at business, Nella, I crave very little for myself. Just potatoes?” He smiles. “Just potatoes. And you are right, I am not a philosopher, I am merely a man who happens to have sailed to Surinam.”

“You said the sugar was delicious.”

Sugar becomes the watchword of this book. The world has a craving for it and Brandt has accepted a commission to sell bricks of it for some frenemies. The sugar, unfortunately, proves to be a “millstone” around his neck.

 photo Dollhouse_zps1a32e4cf.jpg
A dollhouse owned by a real Petronella Oortman currently in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Johannes buys his bride a cabinet, a miniature dollhouse of “her” house. It is expensive and certainly he doesn’t send the right message to his young bride who is still too closely tied to dolls and toys. His intent was generous and Nell becomes caught up in the spirit of the gift and contacts:

Residing at the sign of the sun, on Kalveerstraat
Originally from Bergen
Trained with the great Bruges clockmaker, Lucas Windelbreke

 photo MiniatureHouse_zps7e2e3621.jpg
Miniature Houses became all the rage in the 17th century. People spent ridiculous sums making their miniature houses as sumptuous as possible. Brandt had an exact duplicate of his house made for Nella, well except for one missing room, but you will have to read the book to figure out why.

Nella orders items to make her house even more her own. The miniaturist as it turns out has some ideas of what she needs as well. She starts sending her unsolicited packages with cryptic notes and presentiments of what will be.

It all becomes rather alarming.

She writes the miniaturist receiving no replies. She stops at her shop. She sees her on the street, a splash of yellow hair, but can never catch her. She is a phantom whose intentions are hard to fathom. This Miniaturist can see into people’s souls. As spooky as it all seems these packages become Nell’s lifeline to understanding the truth.

Those secrets that everyone hoards like gold, start to be spent.

There is an English lad named Jack Philips, a fly in any ointment, an actor, a bohemian, a blackguard, a destroyer of worlds. ”Jack steps into the light at the sound of her, opening his arms wide. He is really so beautiful, Nella thinks. So wild. She cannot take her eyes off him.” He has a puzzling hold on Johannes, another of those secrets that will soon be out in the air. Nella’s own attraction to him is unsettling, but really he is just a good looking sprite of a man that can temporarily stir the hormones of anyone.

 photo JessieBurton_zps059d646e.jpg
When I saw this photo of the author I was not surprised to learn that she had worked as an actress.

As Nella’s world begins to unravel just as she starts to understand it, we will see the resolve of the entire cast of characters tested, one by one, as the wheel of fate continues to turn. Jessie Burton, for such a young writer, kept a steady hand on the tiller and unspooled the plot judiciously to lend maximum impact to the final chapters. She showed wisdom beyond her years, exposing the misconceptions that we all have about each other, even sometimes those people we feel we know well. Nella learns how intolerance leads to cynicism and how dark secrets can become cancers.

No more secrets...but we all have secrets, layers of them, some are spun gold and others are a lead weight lending joy or anxiety in equal measures. Some add spice inspiring giggles and smiles when remembered. Others are sour like vinegar pulling down the corners of our mouths, stealing the bliss from any new found pleasures.

Check out all my most recent book and movie reviews at http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
Profile Image for Leah Beecher.
351 reviews29 followers
October 3, 2014
This book was very annoying. I kept persevering, oh yes, I did. Chapter after chapter, night after exhausting night when common sense was telling me to go chuck the book across the room and get some much needed sleep. Why? Because I wanted to know who the bloody Miniaturist was of course! Spoiler alter: you never really find out, not really anyway. It is very vague. I even went back and read the cryptic first chapter upon finishing the thing think maybe that would help me to somewhat "get it" Nope. Annoying. Way too many boring scenes and conversations about sugar. Didn't get the point (and I like to think that I am not totally stupid) and the characters were not believable. Why Nella loves her husband, why her sister in law is the way she is, why her husband's lover turns on him...nothing was convincing. And the whole miniaturist being some supernatural prophet observing it all...didn't work for me. When will I learn not to judge a book by the its prominent Barnes and Noble placement?
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Leanne.
129 reviews287 followers
January 28, 2015
3 stars is a difficult rating for me. When I look at the vast number of 3-starrers I've got sitting on my shelves, there is a definite divide between ones I sped through at the time but that left no lasting impression, ones that I did enjoy but just found too silly or amateur-ish to rate higher, and ones that I was highly anticipating and just failed to live up to such lofty expectations. Of any category, The Miniaturist probably falls into the latter. I had it pre-ordered back in March, read quite a bit of early buzz and rave reviews, and had seen multiple Goodreads friends with similar taste add it to their "to-read" shelves. And while it was certainly good, it just didn't quite make the leap to great.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of 18-year-old Nella Brandt (nee Oortman), who has entered into a prosperous marriage with a man she barely knows, the rich but aloof Johannes. In the Brandt household, she co-exists with a crew of somewhat cliche characters - Marin, Johannes' cold, spinster sister, Cornelia, the brash but kind maid, and Otto, the wise and trusted butler/manservant. Upon her arrival, Johannes presents Nella with a strange but oddly enticing bridal gift - a cabinet filled with rooms that are an exact replica of the Brandt household.

There were parts that I found fascinating - particularly the mystery of the miniaturist's identity and methods, and the descriptions of all the little items she made for Nella. And Nella herself is a good character, very developed and sympathetic (although probably a bit too independent and resourceful to be totally realistic to the time period). Really, all of the characters have secrets and hidden depths, but unfortunately by the end they all start to veer into complete melodrama.

I think one of the things that bothered me the most was that Burton tried to tackle too many different subjects in a relatively short book, and she wasn't particularly subtle about it. Women's rights, homosexuality, racism, and class division are all introduced within the first 50-100 pages and none of them are developed satisfyingly enough to provide any real social commentary. Other reviewers have also cited the lack of historical accuracy in places, and while I wouldn't know enough about that add an intelligent opinion, I can see where it might have occurred. The book doesn't feel under-researched exactly (there was obviously a lot of care put into it), but it does just lack a depth and amount of detail that the the strongest examples of historical fiction I've read seem to have.

All in all, it's a prettily written historical tale with several interesting twists and turns that never quite matures into something magical - worth a look, but not up to the high standards that seem to have been set for it.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
February 19, 2018
I tried to read this around six months ago and couldn’t get past the first page. I tried again a month ago and gave up after the first chapter. Finally, I tried one more time last night. I got past the first page, and the first chapter, and finished the whole damn thing in one seven hour sitting. Suffice to say, my perseverance paid off because I really liked this book.

My advice: push through the initial awkwardness of the prose.

Ok, so the phrasing of the prologue is very strange; it is enough to immediately put the reader off as it did so with me twice. However, once you reach the end of the book and go back and read it, it makes complete sense and the writing style,does in fact, add to its meaning. Moreover, the story is not told in that manner in its entirety; it is only at the beginning. So if you’ve been put off by the initial few pages then I recommend reading through them again and then continuing with the story. The rest of the prose is normal and approachable, and the plot that develops is brilliant.

Indeed, when a young girl is shipped off to marry a wealthy merchant of Amsterdam she is excited at the prospect of being a married woman. However, the marriage is not what she hoped; it turns out to be terrible and cold. Her husband ignores her and shows no signs of wanting intimacy with his new bride; his sister lives with them and she is a bully and takes charge of the home. Thus, Nella wants to run back home but, she can’t because if she did she would never discover why the miniaturist is sending her so many miniatures; they begin to haunt her life in disturbing ways, so she stays to find out why.

Why is The Miniaturist sending her these things?

This is the question that kept me reading. The miniatures are a frightening reflection of her messed up marriage; they change as the characters change or the characters change as the miniatures change. It is not clear which one is the cause and which one is the effect. They haunt her life as more and more arrive on her doorstep. Each one is more revealing than the last and harbour intimate knowledge of her secrets. How the Miniaturist acquired such knowledge is unfathomable and disturbing. The question remains: why does she do this to Nella?

It is never completely answered; it is more open to interpretation. This makes the ending of this book perfect. It isn’t perfect for the characters involved; it is quite the opposite: tragic. But, the Miniaturist remains shrouded in mystery; she remains an ethereal entity that is the heart of this book; she drives the events forward, somehow, and makes the book special. The Miniaturist’s reasons, and the effects she causes, are completely open for the reader to decide. The Miniaturist may be a crazy stalker person or he/she may be something much more.

There is a reason Waterstones named this as their book of the year in 2014. I’m so glad I gave it a third reading attempt otherwise I never would have experienced its brilliance.
Profile Image for Ferdy.
944 reviews1,124 followers
February 25, 2015

Could have been great, the premise sounded really intriguing and unique.. Unfortunately, the story was plain nonsensical and filled with tedious characters who were obsessed with sugar.

-I couldn't stand Nella, she was an irritating, passive, embarrassing and insipid main character. She was also a right thicko, she missed so many obvious things that were right in front of her. How on Earth did she miss her husband being gay? Or Thea being Otto's daughter? Why did she let Marin treat her like crap in her own home? Also, why did she think ordering those miniatures would piss off Johannes? Ugh, she was so daft.

-Most of the characters were annoying and unlikeable, not only that they were super boring. I didn't care about their secrets or their evasiveness, the only 'character' I wanted to know about was the miniaturist, but nothing significant was ever revealed about her. I did quite like Cornelia, Hanna and Johannes, they were the only half decent characters there.

-What was with that first chapter? I thought it would make sense by the end but if anything I was left more confused. Was the miniaturist trying to stop certain events from happening or something? Because she ended up changing nothing. I didn't get it. Why was the miniaturist even interested in Nella and all the other women's lives in the first place? It was like her character was a mystery just for mystery's sake. The fact there wasn't even the slightest explanation about her made the intriguing premise totally nonsensical.

-Who was the miniaturist? How did she know what to send Nella and the other women? Why did she send stuff to them? Did she have psychic powers? What was the point of it all? Why was she stalking Nella? What was she trying to achieve?

-I hated Marin most of all, she was a total hypocrite, an abusive cow, and so self righteous and holier than thou. Her personality wasn't just vile, it was also boring, she didn't say or do one interesting thing. It was irritating how she played the victim and the martyr when she was none of those things, anything bad that happened to her was of her own doing. I especially despised the way she treated Nella, she ruined Nella's life by forcing Johannes to marry her, because of her Nella didn't get to have a real marriage or kids of her own. Ugh, I was glad Marin died at the end, it was what she deserved.

-I kind of loathed and loved Johannes, he was a good man and his life was tragic but his carelessness and selfishness was frustrating to read. I felt sorry for him at first for being forced to marry so that no-one would suspect he was gay, but then his antics with the sugar and the shagging around in public made me hate him. He knew being caught would not only mean the end of his life but also the possible destruction of his family. Why did he find it so difficult to be careful? Also, what was his problem in selling the sugar? Why did he leave it so long? Why couldn't he be bothered to actually do something with it? How did he not know that the sugar was rotting? How did he not know about his money situation? How was he successful in his work yet totally incompetent about the sugar? Him hating Agnes and Frans wasn't a good enough excuse for fucking up with the sugar. At times he seemed to have zero common sense or care for anyone else except himself. For a good chunk of the book I disliked him but by the end I really started to feel sorry for him again, he didn't deserve everyone turning on him and being punished the way he was. It was so depressing but I guess it was realistic for the time period.

-Liked the Amsterdam setting, and the general premise was good but the execution of it was utter rubbish.

All in all, I wasn't impressed. If the ending had been satisfying (as in finding out the mystery of and the driving force behind the miniaturist) then I could have forgiven the crappy protagonist and slow moving story.. Sadly, the ending revealed nothing, if anything it just made things more confusing. I doubt I'll read any of the author's future releases.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
September 4, 2017
Αυτή η ιστορία που ξεκινάει πολλα υποσχόμενη,κυρίως μας προϊδεάζει για σκοτεινά μυστικά,υπερφυσικές ικανότητες,πνιγηρες και ανομολόγητες συνομωσίες οικογενειακού και κοινωνικού πλαισίου και φυσικά για μια κρυφή σαγηνευτική απεικονηση μυστηρίου στη ζωή του Άμστερνταμ τέλη του 17ου αιώνα,καθηλωτική και γεμάτη πρωταγωνιστες που θα εξάψουν τη φαντασία μας και την αγωνία μας. Ωραία;;;;το αποτέλεσμα κατώτερο των προσδοκιών μου σε σημείο εκνευριστικό.

Σε αυτή τη χρονική περιοδο όπου στην πρωτεύουσα της Ολλανδίας οι έμποροι ειναι πλούσιοι και ισχυροί και φτωχοί οι "καλύτερα σιτιζόμενοι φτωχοί του πλανήτη",υπάρχουν στοιχεία ανθρώπινης υπόστασης που πληρούνται στο μυθιστόρημα με "λίγο απο ολα".

Ξεκινάμε με μια φτωχή κοπέλα που έρχεται ως νύφη στο σπιτι ενός πάμπλουτου εμπόρου και παραμένει νύφη ανυμφευτη..... Αυτό ειναι η βάση της ιστορίας μας και απο εκεί και μετά έπονται, λίγες αλλα ισχυρές προκαταλήψεις,λίγη κοινωνική καταπίεση εις βάρος των γυναικών που καταλήγουν σε αλληλεγγύη και ψήγματα φεμινισμού,λίγη ρατσιστική αντίληψη αλλα μάλλον αποδεκτή, λίγη τρομοκρατία απο την μεριά του κλήρου που όμως εύκολα εξαγοράζεται, λίγος απαγορευμένος έρωτας αλλα με ελπιδοφόρους καρπούς και αρκετά καταπιεσμένα ένστικτα ανθρώπινης φύσης που οδηγούνται στο θάνατο αλλα αναγνωρίζονται οι καλές τους πράξεις προς το κοινωνικό σύνολο.

Όσο για το περιβόητο κουκλόσπιτο κι αυτό πολύ λίγο μπροστά στην παραδοξότητα που το περιβάλλει. Ήταν τοσο καλό ως απομίμηση μιας πραγματικής ζωής που μπορούσε να ξέρει και να κατευθύνει τα πρόσωπα και τα γεγονότα όπως συνέβαιναν.
Εξήγηση;; Απλή λιτή και απέριττη στα όρια του ανεξήγητου.

Ένα "κουκλόσπιτο" με λίγο απο όλα. Για εμένα αυτό το λίγο ήταν πολύ για με απογοητεύσει.
Μια απλή ιστορία εποχής καθόλου κακογραμμενη αλλα...ανεπαρκής.

Καλή ανάγνωση.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
763 reviews571 followers
November 7, 2022
Why I chose to read this book:
1. I found a hardcopy at my library's annual book sale a few years ago. Both the cover design and story premise attracted me; and,
2. September 2022 is my "Historical Fiction Month".

1. I liked how this story's setting is late 17th century Amsterdam and was inspired by Petronella Oortman's Cabinet House located at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (photo included!) Check out YouTube to view this intricate dollhouse;
2. I was initially intrigued by the mysterious twists in this gloomy, atmospheric read; and,
3. I appreciated the most helpful inclusion of the "17th Century Dutch Glossary".

1. characters - unrelatable and worse, unbelievable!
2. the writing style, figurative language, and obscure references were confusing and felt pretentious overall. I often had to reread large sections to make sense of what was happening, sometimes to no avail;
3. way too many plot issues were thrown into this pot of soup! Unfortunately, not enough "flavor" from any one of them could be "tasted" to appreciate the story as a whole; and,
4. what was the point of the Miniaturist? One particular chapter outlines her so-called "magical power", but it was such a lackluster reason.

Overall Thoughts:
I really looked forward to reading this book, but it left me with so many unanswered questions. So disappointing. 2 ⭐s = okay read.

Several readers loved this story. It does have an interesting premise and history about 17th century Amsterdam. As for myself, I'm going to donate my copy back to the library and revisit Holland by checking out Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews991 followers
February 23, 2022
Nella Oortman arrives at a grand house in (17th century) Amsterdam to begin her new life with her recently matched husband, who is nearing middle-age, but a highly successful trader called Johannes Brandt; his rather rude sister Marin; their maid Cordelia; and their manservant, an African, Otto. Her new husband gives her limited attention, bar the extraordinary wedding gift of a cabinet-sized replica of their great home! The replica is to be furnished (and populated) by a highly elusive but gifted miniaturist. As Nella begins to find out more about the secrets and possible lies of her new household and Amsterdam itself, the lifelike replica models she begins receiving from the miniaturist begin to take the shape of omens, but are they for good or for bad, outcomes?

Far too many debuts leave me confused as to how they got published in the highly competitive modern book market, but this is very much not one of them. A delightful and mesmerising look at life in 17th century Europe/Amsterdam, with a hint (or not?) of supernaturalism that sits perfectly well in this post-Elizabethan age colonialist expansion era of European history. As well as being a well crafted story with - SHOCK! - a reliable narrator in Nella, it takes an uncompromising look at the lives of how the relatively disenfranchised, such as women, homosexuals and non-Caucasians faired when living amongst those is power. A must-read that takes a more realistic (yep, I used that word again) view on life in 17th century Europe. A startling and eye opening debut by Jessie Burton, whom I can only thank for being brave enough to pen this story as her debut. And in case my perspective has dissuaded you, I should make it clear that the main story is really all about honour and non-romantic love. 8.5 out of 12.

2022 read
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,226 followers
March 7, 2016
One thing I learned from reading this novel is that clearly most readers are better at suspending disbelief than I am. At times the plotting of this book was so preposterous and highly excitable that it seemed to me like the literary equivalent of pantomime. A wild man in pantomime clothes stabs a painting, then he stabs a dog, then he in turn is stabbed by an equally exotic piratical character, he seems to be dying but then suddenly reverts back to amateur dramatics – the entire scene, aspiring to pathos, is pure farce, childish slapstick. Then the whole premise of the miniaturist and her dark arts is so cynically far-fetched that I wouldn’t be surprised if initially this novel was conceived as a children's story. In some ways it’s two different novels: there’s the basic storyline with its adult themes - a young girl marries into a family of Dutch traders and finds herself in a house with many dark secrets and then grafted somewhat heavy-handedly on top is the fairy story of the miniaturist supplying a constant feast of implausible hollow mystery the nature of which is never addressed. And not once did I feel these two narratives were reconciled. You could take out the entire character of the miniaturist and her sorcery from this novel without it altering the novel’s basic plot at all.
But there’s also something cynical about the construction of this novel. As if, prior to composition, a lot of market research was done to identify what exactly makes a best-selling novel. I suspect a computer program might have come up with a plot similar were it engineered to formulate the basic components for a best-selling novel. We’ve got the exotic location, the innocent heroine, we’ve got tall dark strangers mincing into virtually every other chapter, we’ve got goodies and baddies with just enough leeway to allow for twists, we’ve got a sugary relish for sensual descriptive prose and we’ve got one mystery after another shovelled into the narrative. I thought maybe the doll’s house might be a symbol of a clever subtext about women’s lack of autonomy in the public realm back in those dark days but really it’s just a cheap gimmick to feed a constant current of mystery into the plot. There are good things. The characters are well-drawn and evolve well in relation to each other and there’s a truly harrowing account of childbirth. But essentially it’s a watercolour of a novel, little texture or underpainting or depth – everything is on the surface. I guess this is escapist fiction because rarely did it make me think about anything – a story that allows one to forget about real life for a bit. I had the feeling near the end that thirty or so revealing pages were missing from the text. I felt cheated. Depressing that this outsold virtually every other novel last year.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews737 followers
September 4, 2017
Enjoyed this book, really entertaining story of 17th century Amsterdam and the adventures of Petronella, newly wed young wife of a rich merchant living at the 'Herengracht' in Amsterdam. The adventures however did not turn out what she expected...It's a rather dark and sad story, but beautifully told and beautifully characterizes Amsterdam of those times...you could feel the cold of winter and the frozen canals throug the pages... Loved it. And then there's the mystery of the miniaturist, who keeps sending mysterious packages.... Pages kept turning and turning....
I love the descriptions of the old Amsterdam, I lived there myself for a number of years, when I return to the city (every once in a while), always love the atmosphere of Amsterdam, and I realize I need to read more historic novels on the rich history of The Netherlands. Howcome I read so much English history books and not so much of my own country? I recently went to see the movie 'Michiel de Ruyter', the famous admiral at sea of the Holland forces, who lived in the same 17th century as this book. Really impressed about this movie as well.
Now I have to go to the Rijksmuseum soon (it's completely renovated and reopened) to go see the doll's house of Petronella Oortman. And I need to read Warenar of P.C. Hooft, famous tragicomedy written in 1617. Read it for school I believe years ago... obligatory. Now I'm going to try it again of my own free mind :-)
Great debut of this writer, hopefully many more books to come....
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
April 14, 2017
Final review, first posted on www.FantasyLiterature.com:

In the fall of 1686, eighteen year old Petronella (Nella), newly wed in a hastily arranged marriage, arrives on the doorstep of her husband's fine home in Amsterdam, and finds herself, like second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca, in over her head, in a home where there are strange undercurrents and dark secrets swirling around. Her twenty-plus years older husband, Johannes Brandt, is kind but mostly absent and apparently uninterested in visiting her bed and making her a "true woman," and her husband's stern sister, like a Dutch Mrs. Danvers, runs their home with an iron hand.

When Johannes gifts Nella with an extravagant miniature of their home and suggests she fill it with furnishings, Nella is torn between resentment that he's given her a child's gift and a growing intrigue with the intricate but odd furnishings and doll-size characters sent to her by the mysterious "miniaturist," who hides from view but seems to know all of the secrets in the Brandt household.

The subplot with the miniaturist adds a nice layer of fantastical mystery to the plot and integrates well with the main plotline. The magical realism is subtle enough that I questioned, for a time, whether it was even a fantasy element. But the amount of detail in the miniature dolls and pieces is uncanny, and Nella discovers that sometimes the pieces change in a way that reflects actual events, hidden secrets not only in the Brandt household, but in other Amsterdam homes as well. It’s an intriguing concept, but it’s not really at the core of the story Burton is telling; it’s a little odd to me that the book is named for an elusive character who barely shows up in the novel.

The Miniaturist is of the genre of books that takes on social issues -- feminism, race issues, homosexuality – and examines them in a historical setting. This is a laudable goal but too often results in an anachronistic story where a few enlightened characters with suspiciously modern social attitudes combat the prejudices and social values of their time. Religion in this story is personified by the greedy, hypocritical pastor. When a starling gets trapped inside his church, a woman tries to open the church door to let the bird back outside into freedom, but it flaps away behind the pulpit.
Starling, she thinks, if you believe that building is the safer spot, then I am not the one to set you free.
I was also dissatisfied with the murky, unresolved way the miniaturist subplot ended ... and, to a lesser extent, the entire novel.

The Miniaturist is well-written and Jessie Burton did a massive amount of historical research for it, which definitely enhances the read. There were some fascinating details; for example, I was unaware of the importance (and wealth!) of the merchant class in Amsterdam in the 1600's, and never knew that sugar was sold in tall, rounded loaves and was a huge investment item.


... and all of a sudden the name of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro makes more sense:


In the end, though, it wasn’t quite the book for me, but if you enjoy novels that explore social and sexual issues in unique historic settings, with an ambiguous, subtle layer of fantasy, it’s worth giving The Miniaturist a try.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,441 followers
November 16, 2020
At some point within the past couple of years, I've lost the passion I used to have for historical fiction. Looking back on the historical novels I've enjoyed in recent times, I can see that they all have some element of another genre or type of book I haven't yet got sick of - the ghost story, the unreliable narrator tale, something with just a sprinkling of fantasy. There was a time when I used to specifically seek out historical novels by contemporary authors, and would automatically be drawn to them over other genres, but somewhere along the way I started developing a preference for contemporary fiction, and I've now all but abandoned its historical counterpart. While there were numerous things I liked about The Miniaturist, I feel like it's a good example of the reasons for this shift in my tastes.

This has to be one of the most hyped debut novels I've ever read. Like Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing, which I also read and reviewed recently, The Miniaturist first started gathering buzz at the London Book Fair over a year ago. 11 publishers fought it out to get the rights to the novel, resulting in a six-figure deal for Burton in the UK alone, and more than 30 international deals for translation rights. I feel like I've been hearing about it forever; I've been reading rapturous reviews of advance copies since the beginning of this year. The description of the book that's been bandied about online since it was first announced is very enticing: it's 'a feminist golden-age fiction'; ' a sensational feat of storytelling for fans of Sarah Waters and Donna Tartt'. Additionally, Jessie Burton has a really interesting website on which she shares the story of her journey to getting The Miniaturist published and edited, as well as a lot of her research and input into things like the cover design - it's obvious the book has been a real labour of love. But what about the actual story itself?

Set in the late 17th century, this is the tale of Nella Brandt, née Oortman, who at the age of 18 is married off to a rich businessman and arrives in Amsterdam, where she is to live with her new husband - a stranger to her. Her new life is not what she expected. Her husband, Johannes, is rarely at home and seems uninterested in spending time with her, much less visiting her bed. The Brandt household is effectively ruled by his cold and intimidating sister, Marin, who Nella clashes with. And while the Brandts are affluent, the family's business dealings are being dragged down by a complicated, expensive negotiation over a warehouse full of sugar. In the midst of Nella's loneliness, confusion and disappointment, she is presented with an unusual wedding gift: a large dolls' house which is a perfect recreation of the Brandt house. Casting around for something to do (and a way to spend Johannes' money, and spite Marin), she engages a 'miniaturist' to create some figurines for the house. When they arrive, they are beautifully detailed, uncannily accurate, and perfect. But then the miniaturist starts sending more figures, ones Nella hasn't asked for, and she first thinks they are meant as a cruel joke, before becoming afraid that they are predicting the future, and that the mysterious, elusive miniaturist knows more about the Brandts than Nella herself.

In many ways, Nella is a typical heroine for a historical novel like this. Young, naive and inexperienced, she enters a city and a household bigger and more frightening than anything she has known before. She is confounded by the behaviour of a husband she barely knows, and by an austere older woman who has dominion over the house. Yet she is also independent, smart and liberally minded - implausibly so, really, but of course she must be in order for the 21st-century reader to relate. The characterisation is skilful, and the people in this story are certainly believable, but at the same time I still felt they were basically stock characters, drawn from a template; just fleshed out more effectively than they sometimes are in less accomplished books. The plot unfolds in typically dramatic fashion, with several unexpected twists, a shocking death, illicit relationships and so on. Despite the title, this is less an examination of the mystery of the miniaturist (which is genuinely very intriguing, with well-handled tension) than a family/romantic drama. It's predictable in its unpredictability, which is not the author's fault; I just feel, personally, like I've read this sort of thing many times before. As with Elizabeth is Missing, I was primed for something remarkable and had to settle for something that was merely good.

The Miniaturist reminded me a lot of Hannah Kent's Burial Rites. While the latter book is extremely different in terms of theme and setting, I felt the same about both in that they are conventional tales with mass-market appeal dressed up in period costume, garlanded with literary flourishes and highbrow praise. In my review, I described Burial Rites as 'almost soapy', a description that could also be applied to this book. With both books, I found the speech, thoughts and sometimes the behaviour of the characters, and some parts of the narrative itself, to be too modern. For example, I found the reveal about Johannes far too obvious and graphic in the context of a story set in the 17th century, and I'm sure there's a more subtle and effective way this could have been done, particularly since it had already been heavily hinted at. Because something like this would never have been detailed in a story of this time, its presence (for me anyway) distorted the credibility of the whole piece.

Oh, and every time Otto got called 'Toot' I cringed so much. I can appreciate that the continued use of the nickname was supposed to show how Otto was accepted as a member of the family, and maybe it's just because I really don't like that word, but I found it far more patronising than endearing. I guess that could be deliberate - this is the 17th century, these characters can't be that enlightened... - but as the reader was obviously supposed to feel affection towards Otto, that would make for a slightly confusing message. I'm tempted to nitpick at some other details (the figurines are described as very small - the sugar loaf Agnes holds is 'no longer than an ant' - but Nella can clearly see the Jack doll on the doorstep from her bedroom window?) but this review already sounds far too negative about a book I really quite enjoyed. I suppose I'm using it as a bit of a punching bag for my issues with modern historical fiction in general.

Despite the fact that The Miniaturist has clearly been researched thoroughly and is well-written, I found it altogether too light a confection to be a truly satisfying read. It doesn't have anything like the scope of any book by Waters or Tartt, so those comparisons seem misplaced. I feel like Burton is a hugely talented writer but that this book just wasn't right for me. I found the rich description to be a highlight - I can still see the book's version of Amsterdam perfectly in my mind's eye - and I'd like to read something by Burton with a contemporary setting, something that transfers her ability to evoke atmosphere and character to a less melodramatic story. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on the author's future work, but this debut wasn't what I'd hoped.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books520 followers
April 30, 2023
The Miniaturist takes place in late 17th century Amsterdam with eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arriving to a cold reception at the estate of her new husband, the successful merchant Johannes Brandt. When she arrives, her husband is inexplicably out of the house, and her new sister-in-law, Marin Brandt, is less than welcoming. The second Mrs. de Winter—oh, excuse me, Nella—is understandably upset about the foreboding atmosphere of her new home and, despite several attempts, is unable to establish any meaningful emotional connection with her husband.

The sole gesture of kindness from Johannes is a belated wedding gift for Nella—an oversized dollhouse that is a replica of their own home. Nella soon commissions the titular miniaturist to make figures for the dollhouse. However, Nella receives more pieces than she commissions, and the doll replicas creepily reflect private details of the real household members, even seeming to presage upcoming tragic events in their lives.

Who is the miniaturist? A stalker who obsessively follows their every move? A clairvoyant who sends warnings to Nella? Or a witch who is somehow controlling their future?

Unfortunately, we will never know. I was drawn to this novel by the idea of a miniaturist with supernatural abilities who manipulates the lives of an unsuspecting family. But this is only a minor side plot of the novel.

The actual focus of The Miniaturist is on the Brandt family dramas and associated social commentary related to feminism, racism, and homophobia. The social commentary doesn't quite connect, as the Brandts feel out of place in 17th century Amsterdam, too modern for their time. Moreover, they are never given enough psychological depth for the novel to have the intended emotional impact on the reader.

When I picked up this novel, I was hoping for a Gothic-style psychological thriller with magical overtones. Instead, what I found is a family drama/historical fiction that focuses on social commentary without providing enough depth to its characters and without successfully integrating the more interesting side plot of the miniaturist into the main thread of the novel. Overall, it was a disappointment.
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,556 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
June 17, 2021
Speed dating with a book 2021 Kindle edition
Book 5/15

DNF at 2nd base (aka 20 something %)

This novel has the potential to become a 3* read but in this game of mine I only settle for 4 or more. I abandon books way easier than I normally do because the aim is to reduce my unread books waiting in my Kindle. I might miss some hidden jewels but I normally have an idea about whether I enjoy a book from the first 50-100 pages. Why I stopped reading this one? The writing and dialogue did not impress me much although I did like the historical details. I also read a few reviews which gave me an idea of what to expect from The Miniaturist if I continued to read.
Profile Image for Jeannette.
673 reviews143 followers
April 11, 2015
Now available on the WondrousBooks blog.

1. Cover love!

Let me back up here.
I stumbled upon this book and I thought the concept was interesting, even though I'm not a fan of historical books. I recently got a hold of it and I was in a hurry to read it.

Summary: Nella is a girl of almost 18 years whose father dies and she is forced to marry a rich merchant, Johannes Brandt, from Amsterdam and leave her village. Upon arrival, however, she realizes that her new husbands household, consisting of his spinster sister Marin, an unfriendly maid, named Cornelia, and a black manservant, called Otto. Nella's husband is often away on trips and she is left to her own devices in the hostile house, her only solace being the miniature figurines a mysterious miniaturist sends to her. Soon after, however, her life and the lives of the entire Brandt family are turned upside down and now Nella has to learn to stand up for herself and protect the people that she loves.


Nella is at first portrayed as very shy and obedient, but in a way I found endearing as much as it was sad. All of her attempts to win over her husband were pitifully sweet. I couldn't help feel sorry for her and I really hoped that she and Johannes will find their way to one another. I thought that this was going to be a "Pride and Prejudice" sort of thing, and boy was I wrong.
In the second part of the book we see Nella grown up, less shy and timid, much more decisive. I liked her like this and I was glad she managed to develop instead of staying a little girl who needs help to do everything.

Johannes was the character through which the author was trying to preach her philosophy. At first I thought he was charming and despite the fact that he was being described as such until the end, he lost his charm for me near the beginning. I think he is actually a spoiled rich man who has too much money and time on his hands. He was absolutely selfish and blatantly so. His pathetic attempts to be nice to his wife were painful to read about and proving how inconsiderate he is of anyone but his own self.

Marin and the Meermans were very shallow and underdeveloped. The author shows one side of them, the one they show to the world, and then heavily underlines the fact that all three of them have hidden identities and then just barely scrapes the surface of those and shows the result of their actions without explaining the actions themselves. It's one thing to leave it to the reader to understand a character when you've showed them through different perspective and another to expect the reader to guess what was going on without any explanation whatsoever.
For example:
What happened to Agnes in the court?
What drove Agnes to her behaviour?
What was Agnes and Frans' coversation after the dinner in the Brandt house all about?
What happened to Marin and Frans and Otto?

The Miniaturist : this is this book's unforgivable negligence. It's called The Miniaturist, and yet one, the miniaturist is barely there, two, nothing is said about her, she is yet another flat character, three, how exactly can one explain her near supernatural ability to "predict" things with her figurines? Are you really going to tell me she managed to spy on 50 different families to gather enough information about all of them? It just sounds silly and stupid. I think the author had a stroke of genius for this character to a certain degree and then she didn't know what to do with it later. EXTRAORDINARY DISAPPOINTMENT.


Jesse Burton manages to make some great points in this book. She points out many things that might have been a problem in the 17th century and sadly, however, haven't changed much throughout the ages. Among those are racism, attitude toward homosexuality, the greed and vanity of society, and the one I liked the best: feminism.

I read this book just a couple of weeks, if not less, after Emma Watson's fantastic speech for the UN. THe Miniaturist paints a world where no matter how good a woman is at what she does, she can never be equally praised as a man can be. The sad truth is, even today, when we consider ourselves so developed, a woman can still do the same job as a man, she can even do it better, and she is never likely to get the same money for it. I wish people would try and think about such things before declaring themselves "intelligent" and "progressive".

Finale. SPOILERS!!!

The second part of this book is a letdown. It quickly turns from the subject of the miniaturist and Nella's hardships, to a family drama of the sort I really and truly hate. I was in suspense for so long, I was going through this book as fast as humanly possible, and for what? So that I can get a page and a half of the miniaturist's father telling Nella that the miniaturist didn't come from an egg.

Nothing was really explained in this book.

Most of all, what was the significance of the miniaturist at all? What was the significance of the fact that she was also called Petronella?

I feel that's the bit that makes the book as shallow and pointless as it is. Since the miniaturist signifies the theme of the book, as unexplained as the miniaturist is, so is the story. What is this story even about? Is it redemption? Because nobody was redeemed of any sin. Is it forgiveness? If so, who was the forgiven, who was the forgiving? Was it love? I found none. Was the miniaturist supposed to be the thing that made Nella grow up? I can't possibly see this as being true. Nella doesn't grow up because someone sends her figurines but because she is the only person that can care for this family. So where exactly was this novel supposed to lead.

I'm really frustrated right now. I am left with more questions then there were answers in this book. Who, what, why, when, how??? All of those can be asked about each and every character, up to a point when you realize that it's highly probable that there was never a great idea in this book. There was a concept and the author failed in trying to make a good story out of it.
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,636 reviews34k followers
August 3, 2014
3.5 stars Quite lovely in parts, but I found this strangely lacking in emotional complexity. It also bears the weight of the legacy of many other stories before it that touch on similar plot elements or themes, so that two of the three most central mysteries don't come as surprises at all. And the third? The third is left unexplained.

A bit more of a review to come.
Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews669 followers
October 25, 2014


Honestly, at pg 115, I wanted to stop reading it. I do tire of novels with a ‘Mrs Danveresque’ character. Burton is using lots of flowery turns of phrase but lacking in the story-telling department. This feels so unpolished, almost like a first draft, it lacks substance.

17th century Holland is ripe with historical detail and features but Burton has not used this to her advantage. And what are pattens? You may not know. Yes, you can Google it but should you need to? Not terribly much explanation for what life was like back then, the buildings, the people and their way of life: so much more could have been provided. I haven't read any Historical Fiction based in Holland and was looking forward to learning something interesting: there was none provided.

At very best, this scrapes into a three star category, but overall it’s a very average read. Maybe having read the best by the great Hilary Mantel and Alison Weir, I expect too much.

**Back to the original review**

But after reading the glowing review by a GR friend/hero, was determined to carry on with it. Burton picked the novel up out of mediocre.

Sometimes, I'm just out of step with what current readers enjoy. Who am I to 'can' a best seller? But I will say that when reading Historical Fiction, I like lots more background and detail and I daresay most HistFict readers do.

Is this just an okay books being hyped up by publicists? I do hope Burton will mature into a more seasoned writer. 3★

Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,028 reviews374 followers
May 27, 2021
Atenção aos Sinais

Está-se em finais do século XVII, numa sumptuosa mansão de Amesterdão, onde uma esposa solitária e infeliz tem como único entretenimento mobilar uma maquete da própria casa, com pequenas peças que lhe são enviadas por um misterioso miniaturista.

Umas encomendadas e outras ofertadas, as miniaturas chegam gradualmente, à medida que os segredos da casa vão desabrochando.
São peças mágicas, que prenunciam cada episódio da vida de Nella — a dita esposa solitária e infeliz — naquela estranha mansão, e nos envolvem num constante jogo de adivinhação — tornamo-nos inevitavelmente leitores-escritores, pois perante as pistas debitadas, também nós vamos construindo uma história que ansiamos por comparar com aquela que nos é narrada...

Quanto a mim, "O Miniaturista" é uma obra de longo alcance:
Se pensarmos nos nossos caminhos, nos nossos percursos de vida, pergunto-me se não estarão, também eles, miniaturizados pelos pequenos sinais que a vida nos vai enviando — aqueles preciosos sinais que nos permitem chegar a nós mesmos, desvendando os nossos próprios segredos?!...

Moral da história : Atenção aos Sinais !!!
Profile Image for Annette.
800 reviews382 followers
March 16, 2022
The story is set in the late 17th century Amsterdam, a city of affluence and at the same time religious oppression.

An eighteen year old Nella, from an impoverished family, agrees to marry a rich merchant from Amsterdam due to their reduced financial circumstances. It seems as there is a spark, but the marriage is nothing what Nell imagines. She feels lonely and yearns for her husband’s love, but instead she receives a harsh-treatment from her husband’s sharp-tonged sister. Nevertheless, when an event occurs, the powers switch at the house.

Meanwhile, Nella receives a wedding-gift from her husband – a cabinet-sized replica of their home. She engages the services of a miniaturist to furnish her gift. This also turns into something unexpected.

The story has a well-developed plot and characters with unexpected turns, making it an interesting and fast read.
Profile Image for Maxine (Booklover Catlady).
1,322 reviews1,253 followers
June 23, 2021
What a magnificent story! So moving and beautiful. Exceptionally written and exquisite in every single way possible. I am not normally a fan of historical fiction, but this novel swept me away in it's beauty, darkness and secrets. Tremendous.

This book is the fastest selling debut novel since 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. Eleven big name publishers battled it out for the rights to its publication. It is one of the most hyped releases of 2014 and is currently outselling J.K. Rowling. I do however think it will be a book that people either love and understand or they won't. Divided reviews no doubt.

What is the book about?

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . . On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin.

Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways.

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

My Review:

Where to start? At first it took me a little while to get into this book, so do persist with it if unsure at the start like I was. The world of Amsterdam in the seventeenth century is brought to life in this beautiful book. We are educated and immersed in the ways of life of the wealthy and fortunate "Amsterdammers".

Nella is only eighteen when she arrives at the home of the respected and wealthy trader, Johannes Brandt, she was married to him in a brief ceremony previously, she does not know the man at all, nor does he know her. It's a strange dance they do initially.

Nella is presented with a stunning replica home of the house she now lives in and begins communication after engaging with "The Miniaturist" who has artful and skillful hands in making tiny replica pieces of furniture and people, animals even. And they are so very lifelike. Soon Nella's replica home is filled with tiny images of her life. This replica home and it's contents play a huge part in making this book as magical as it is.

Nella's character grows strongly throughout the book, the woman she is at the end is not the woman we meet at the beginning, but the feisty strong inner nature she has stays put all the way through, I endeared to her character and her situation hugely. Not an easy path she walks.

Other wonderful characters include Otto, known as "Toot" who is the man servant to Johannes and is of African descent, a rare thing in seventeenth century Amsterdam. He is stared at and shunned by shocked and horrified pious locals, however he is much regarded in the stately home. His character has a powerful impact on the home and the book, subtle but powerful.

We have Marin, Johannes sister who is a complex woman, she seems to rule the house and has not taken warmly to Nella being in the home initially, making things tense and difficult. But Marin is a woman of secrets and depths and the book unravels her bit by bit, a character I grew to love from a place of dislike. Exceptional.

And of course Cornelia, she who cooks the most wonderful foods for the home and cares so much for everybody in it, a woman with a big heart and clever hands.

Nella is faced with an astounding shocking secret connected with her new life, something that shakes her to the core and changes everything, it also starts to make a lot of things makes sense to the reader. The book is clever in so much as it reveals it's secrets to you so slowly that you don't see it coming and my eyes nearly popped out of my head a few times in certain scenes as I gasped and re-read the paragraph to check I had read what I thought I had read. From thereon this book was owning me.

I could not stop reading to find out what the story was behind the person making the tiny figures and furniture and why they had so much hold over things. I could not stop reading as I wanted to watch the dance between the characters in the book. I could not stop reading as secret upon secret was revealed and loyalties were divided.

I was lost in this world that Jessie Burton so cleverly created, lost back in time, in Amsterdam, immersed in the history presented and fascinated by the story being weaved.

It stirred much emotion in me, especially towards the end of the book as scene after scene took my breath away, I felt so much sadness at some of the events and felt choked up wanting to reach out to the characters. I loved, just loved the ending of the book, it was both painful and beautiful at the same time.

I think you have to put aside quality time to read this novel, and let it sweep you away, don't give up on it, stay with it as it will no doubt surprise you where the story goes. It's not a straight forward novel by any means, and whilst some questions did not get answered I did not mind, it kept some of it's secrets from me.

Who is The Miniaturist? Why does it matter? What of Johannes and Nella's marriage? Why is Marin so locked up in herself? You will have to read to find out. 4.5 stars from me. A true bit of escapist fiction that is very well written. I really liked it a lot and that surprised me as I was expecting to be bored.

I received a copy of this novel thanks to the publisher via Goodreads in exchange for an honest review.

For more of my book reviews, plenty of awesome books to win, and author Q&A events come to: https://www.facebook.com/BookloverCat...

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Profile Image for Becky.
5 reviews2 followers
July 11, 2014
In many ways this is a beautiful book, with gorgeous descriptive language that really brings the scenes in Amsterdam to life. It's rare that I find an author who can describe without over-use of adjectives. There is a lot to admire.

However ultimately I felt this book was like a series of rolling waves which never really broke - the tension seems to grow and swell, then it comes to nothing. Even the dramatic events, of which there are several, lacked impact.

I think the reason I ultimately found this book disappointing was that the role of the miniaturist of the title comes to very little. She doesn't really direct events, or get involved with them, but neither is her presence (benign or otherwise) really explained as a motivator for the protagonist. The main events of the book don't seem connected to the premise, and the story surrounding the dolls house doesn't really mean anything to most of the characters, who are entirely unaware of it.

I found the main character unsympathetic - for me she is too much 'done unto' and not having enough strength of her own to interest me.

I don't regret reading this book, but I probably won't read it again.
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,169 followers
September 5, 2014
4.5 Stars. What a fantastic and beautifully written debut novel from Jessie Burton. The Miniaturist is about young Nella who lives in the small town of Assendelft and is married off to a much older man named Johannes Brandt who is from Amsterdam in 1686 during it's Golden Age. What Nella endures in just a few months is crazy and very sad. Nella goes and lives with Johannes, his sister Marin, and the rest of his dysfunctional household. The book deals with secrets secrets and more secrets and just when you think there are no more secrets to be revealed BAM there is another one! I could go on and on about this book but I will stop and just say I don't usually gravitate towards Historical Fiction because I usually end up disappointed. Not this time! It was a compulsive and fantastic read and I loved it! The book totally lived up to it's hype! Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,566 reviews1,895 followers
June 3, 2019
Yes well, at first I thought the setting in seventeenth century Holland was very bold and a heroic undertaking, but then reading I thought maybe it was a sign of diffidence, a lack of confidence on the part of the author like a shy person wearing a huge hat or fancy shoes - no, don't look at me, look at my hat and shoes, don't scrutinise my sentences or my narrative - admire my lavish setting, the fabrics, the foods, the intricate details.

When one strips away the setting then I think for a story of a businessman destroyed by the secret of his homosexuality a British author hardily has to go as far from home as Amsterdam in the 1680s, London in the 1980s would do just as well, or even the 1990s if one shifts to politics Perhaps that Burton did put her story over the channel and a few hundred years back is a reflection of her unfeasible youth, younger even than my little sister who is about as young as it is possible to be, but perhaps kind reader, you have good reason to believe that people are still being born, even in this century.

The setting does however give her the title and the central conceit of the miniaturist and the miniature house, however that is an element that maybe deliberately doesn't dove tail with the narrative.

The narrative itself is built from brisk short sentences, which form crisp short chapters, that dash on, so the action of a four hundred page novels covers a bare few months. It is a pacey, fast read, not just for me, the point of view character seemed to have to skip so many meals as she ran about, that I started to feel hungry myself.

The central dynamic is of a married couple whose most important need is to love, and be loved, but the rest of their household desire above all security, these drives are shown to be in dynamic conflict, which leads to crisis, disaster, and possibly recovery (I am simplifying slightly).

The problem is that this dynamic is dropped in to a story of young country girl of good family but no money married to worldly older businessman with a household full of mysteries and secrets, this is a problem because it is a very familiar story but it doesn't really stand out in the crowd, Burton tells it nicely and handles the disparities in knowledge and power deftly enough, but that's it. Good artisan work, but no masterpiece.

Coupled with this is the miniaturist, whose uncanny miniatures and gnomic messages suggest knowledge which would be impossible for her to have in a purely rational and mechanistic universe. However as the Miniaturist only gives the book it's title and is barely glimpsed at a distance and speaks to us in the prologue alone, the author evades dealing directly with what or how she knows and there's the rub.

A review reminded me of Gate of Angels in which Penelope Fitzgerald plays with ideas of fate and chance but this is integrated into the thematic structure of the novel with the subject of theoretical physics - is the universe deterministic which we might experience as fate - they were meant to come together, or is the universe random, in which case there are only lucky or unlucky chances, and the novel plays so with the natural and supernatural.

Or I think of the use of Second Sight in The German Lesson, I don't know if Lenz believed in Second Sight but I believe that his characters did and accepted it as a factual occurrence even if not rationally explicable. However by hiding her miniaturist, Burton evades narrative wholeness which is very jarring in the story which stresses human industry and artisanal skill.

Ultimately I'm left as I was about Girl with a Pearl Earring, nice setting, well enough done, but I don't think it has any long term merit. Still full marks for a first novel, shows promise.

On the other hand you could look at this business of miniatures and miniaturists and see not a problem but a witty conceit, the book is the miniature house and it's puppets, the miniaturist with her uncanny knowledge is the author, one creation nested within another.
Profile Image for Kerri.
989 reviews370 followers
November 23, 2019
I adored this book! I bought it earlier in the year, and had it on the top of a pile of books, so I could see the cover often, as I find it so charming. It was one that I just knew I would like, and I was so pleased with how much I ended up enjoying it.

On one of the first pages there is a picture of Petronella Oortman's cabinet house. I would definitely recommend Googling it and looking at a full colour image, as it is so beautiful. There is also another Petronella Oortman, who also had a cabinet house, and it's worth looking at that too. If I am ever lucky enough to go to Amsterdam, I would love to see these houses! They are so exquisite and I find them fascinating.

Set in 1686, eighteen-year-old Petronella (Nella) Oortman arrives at the house of her new husband, Johannes Brandt, ready to begin her new life as his wife. Things turn out to be not at all what she expected, and she finds herself struggling to adjust. Johannes sister, Marin also lives in the house, along with maid Cornelia, manservant Otto, two dogs named Rezeki and Dhana and Nella's parakeet, Peebo. It's a strange household that I grew incredibly attached to.

Johannes gifts his wife a cabinet sized replica of their home, and, via letter, she commissions a miniaturist to furnish it -- but the miniaturist seems to know more about their household than she should, which is both unnerving and intriguing.

I loved the way this was written. I wanted to sit down and read it all as soon as possible, but unfortunately things got in the way, so I was instead taking any moment I could find to read even a page or two more. I was quite sad to finish it actually, as I didn't feel quite ready to leave the characters behind, but that is of course a testament to the story.

Prior to reading this, I had watched a video on YouTube that showed the making of the furniture pieces for the house used in the TV show. As well as making me want to see that, it helped give me a clear picture of just how detailed the pieces were. Jessie Burton's writing is wonderfully descriptive, so I don't think it's absolutely required viewing, but it was very interesting!

I would like to see the BBC series if I can find it-- the trailer looked good!
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,389 reviews1,470 followers
December 15, 2017
A young woman gets married to a man she's never met. The household she enters is cold and uninviting. As a strange wedding present, her husband buys the woman a mock up of her household.

Against her wishes but wanting to please her husband, Nella hires a miniaturist to build furniture for the gift. The miniatures she receives are accurate enough to be scary. It seems that the miniaturist knows things about her life that Nella doesn't.

This is a story about secrets, trust and unexpected magic.

What killed this story for me was the pacing. It dragged agonizingly along.

The bits about the miniaturist were fascinating. I loved the premise of it- a complete stranger seems to know more about your life than you do. How is that possible?

But, I found the rest of the story to be too slow to make up for the fun parts.

Also, I have so many unanswered questions. I felt like Jessie Burton didn't answer most of the questions she raised in the story.

And, I found the ending to be completely unsatisfying.

I enjoyed learning about 17th century Amsterdam. I liked learning about the societal roles of men, women and the power that religion held over people's lives.

I also liked Cornelia and Otto- the two servants in Nella's new home. Any scene with either or both of them was charming.

Recommended for readers who have much more patience than me. The Miniaturist reveals its secrets slowly, if at all.

It sounds like The Miniaturist is going to appear on BBC the day after Christmas. I wonder if it will be better than the book: www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2017-12-13...
Profile Image for *TUDOR^QUEEN* .
462 reviews476 followers
June 2, 2022
Years ago I noticed this book getting good reviews on Goodreads and so picked it up on a kindle sale for future reading. Just recently I saw that the follow up book "The House of Fortune" is coming out, and received an advance reader copy. In order to get the full reading experience I decided to read the original book as a foundation. I sometimes enjoy fictional books that are on the weird, whimsical side that take place in European countries hundreds of years ago. This one fits the bill.

The book launches in Amsterdam at an old church during a funeral. It touches on a few female mourners, but leaves the deceased details shrouded in mystery. When I finished the book, I actually went back to the beginning to re-read it, since I could now understand it better. The story takes place in 1600s Amsterdam. The locale was interesting, imagining the rows of houses flanking water. It's an insular environment with the principle characters interacting with a stern church vicar, married bake shop personnel, and a handful of business associates involving trade. A very young Petronella (Nella) arrives at her new home, received by her conservative, dour sister-in-law Marin, young maid Cornelia, and a man of color named Otto. Nella's new husband Johannes is more than twice her age at 39, but was considered advantageous marriage material by her parents. He is away on business as a travelling salesman of various goods, sailing to many far flung locales bartering wares. In Johannes absence, his unmarried, prim, rather severe sister Marin manages the household supported by the servants. When Johannes does finally return, the "marriage" is not playing out as normal. It is a household of mystery and contradictions. To somehow placate and distract his young new wife, Johannes gifts Nella an elaborate dollhouse. Marin supplies Nella with a book of local suppliers and money to help decorate it with miniatures. This is a very unsettling and weird aspect of the book, the singular part that asks the reader to suspend reality. However, the author pulls off this strange phenomena with aplomb since it is supported by the strength of the individual characters and their cohesive individual stories that blend together like an interlocking puzzle. Some shocking events ended the story but opened up the obvious possibility for a subsequent book. In the last few years I've read this style of book, the kind that veers towards the weird- a bit dark and gothic- with mediocre effect. The difference with this effort was it actually succeeded and held my interest.
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