"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." And so begins Jessie Burton's tale of a young provincial protagonist, newly married to a distant and elusive man of more than twice her age, as she navigates her new life from the secret-saturated shadows of her husband's canal-side mansion. The catalyst for the story's plot is her wedding gift - a miniature version of her very (new) house, an exact shrunken replica honouring every little detail seen before her very eyes. It is both enchanting and menacing. To furnish the empty doll house, Nella engages in a dialogue with the mysterious miniaturist whose beautifully-crafted effigies seem to hold a power over the plot like the pieces in a particularly ominous game of chess.
This debut is marvellous and an absolute pleasure to read. The prose is intricate and the sentences are often beautiful, while the reading is easy with writing so concise and yet imbued with meaning. Your eyes will flow steadily and greedily through the text, lapping up the richness of the atmosphere, the people - all woven together with words that paint an image of a very specific and evocative time and place. Burton's story unfolds against a golden-age Amsterdam. It is an age of Dutch nautical prowess, Calvinism, female domesticity, capitalist profligacy, art and craftsmanship - all interwoven into the story, a history lover's dream. The characters are captivating and so at odds with each other, yet all somehow sharing the same roof and, eventually, facing a fate that brings them together as family more than co-habituation ever could.
All of these factors often conspire together to earn the book 'hard-to-put-down' status, as we the reader escape into this reticent world and embark on a journey alongside Nella, our sympathetic companion; the good-intentioned teenager thrust into a world of adult secrets. Happily, this book review concludes that The Miniaturist is highly recommended - add it to your reading list for a dose of adventure and intrigue coupled with superb story-telling.