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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #37 - The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

"...words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot."

Approaching a book like "The Miniaturist", which has been the subject of much hype this summer, is always a little bit tricky, because instead of just picking up a book because you liked the sound of it, there are pre-set questions in your mind, such as "Is it really worth all the hype?". It is so important to try and forget about this, though, because you won't enjoy the book as much as it is worthy of being enjoyed.

Nella Oortman, an eighteen year old girl, has come to Amsterdam on the brink of a new life. Naive, nervous, and with no idea what to expect, she arrives at the Brandt household, the owner of whom she recently married. She is met by the steely, cool Marin (Johannes Brandt's sister) and two servants - Cordelia and Otto. Confused by not being greeted by Johannes himself, Nella quickly learns that the life she expected is not going to be the life she will have. Johannes gifts her with a doll's house, a perfect replica of their household, as a "distraction" and Nella reluctantly proceeds to furnishing it. When she consults with a miniaturist, though, things quickly take a turn for the unexpected and fantastical.

It's no surprise that this novel has been getting rave reviews since it hit the bookshelves. Secrets, lies, feminism, money, power, religion, marriage... Burton weaves all of these threads, and more, into a rich, mysterious tapestry, of which the reader is only given a glimpse at the start before the lens zooms out and you figure out how the various colours blend together. You almost wish you never find out, though, as the book becomes deeper and sadder as it goes on. You feel Nella's frustration at her own powerlessness, at her lack of choice in her own life; you are provoked into anger by the hypocrisy and mercilessness of 17th Century Christianity; you wish for all the secrets to spill out into the open and yet remain behind closed doors at the same time because you don't know what would be less painful for the main characters. It really is a marvel of a story, and one that you wish to go on because you cannot bear to leave the characters to struggle on alone. Burton has created a wonderful work of art, here, and has depicted a vivid and imaginative version of life in 17th Century Amsterdam that displays itself richly in the reader's mind. Highly recommended.

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