Published by Picador
The Miniaturist is amongst the ‘biggest debuts’ of 2014, a fairly held position in terms of Burton’s writing, such is its page-turning beauty. However, the reader is left wanting at the end in terms of story. “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed,” we’re promised; yet this novel leaves much unexplained.
It opens with Nella, our young heroine, arriving in 17th century Amsterdam at the house of trader Johannes – her new husband.
Retiring and inattentive as he is, Nella finds herself more in the company of the household: Marin, Johannes’s supercilious sister; Cornelia, ever-present maid; and Otto, ex-slave saved by Johannes.
On arrival, Nella is gifted a replica of her new home in cabinet size, and, enlisting a miniaturist to furnish it, she requests a miniature lute, marzipan, and a betrothal cup.
However, when they arrive, there is more in the package than asked for: chairs identical to those downstairs, a cradle and miniature versions of Johannes’s whippets.
As the novel continues, the miniaturists’ parcels hint at the secrets Marin and Johannes are trying to keep from Nella’s curious eyes. How does the miniaturist know so much about her household, and who is this mysterious craftsman who eludes Nella’s grasp?
It is from Nella’s uncovering of the secrets inside and out of the house that the compelling quality of this novel comes.
There is a wonderful sense of place and time, and you cannot fault Burton’s research or skilled way with words; but such a hotly hyped debut leaves the reader hoping for more than we are given.
Then again, as Marin says, ‘Hope is dangerous’; so instead, read this novel for an atmospheric story of obsession and appearances, rather than to read the hottest book of the year.