On My Bookshelf: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

August 08, 2016

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is set in Amsterdam in the late 1600s where wealth and religion are prominent. Young and just married Nella finds her new husband distant and his household uncomfortable. Then curious things start happening in the cabinet-sized dollhouse given to Nella as a wedding present that may reveal some of the secrets of her new home. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: 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.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is set in Amsterdam in the late 1600s where wealth and religion are prominent. Young and just married Nella finds her new husband distant and his household uncomfortable. Then curious things start happening in the cabinet-sized dollhouse given to Nella as a wedding present that may reveal some of the secrets of her new home. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Why I liked it: Nella is eighteen and finds herself married to an older man; her family has a good name but is almost destitute due to her deceased father's debt. When she arrives at her new home in the city, she finds her husband, a merchant, is not there to welcome her, but instead his unmarried sister, his Moor man servant, and a maid about her own age. Nella struggles to find her place in this household of secrets and strange relationships. Her husband gives her a gift of a miniature house, but the craftsman who provides her with furnishings seems to have the ability to see the future, though Nella may not always understand it.

The Miniaturist is full of complex characters with even more complex relationships. No one is without flaws, but as you come to know more about the five main characters of the Brandt household, you empathize with them all and can't help but want everything to turn out okay. In the end it is not all okay, which is another reason I liked the novel. The ending is far from neat or predictable.

Classroom application: The novel is set in 17th-century Amsterdam so there are historical connections. The cabinet house in the story is a real object, now a museum artifact. Students who prefer historical fiction will gravitate toward this read.

However, the religion of the time is heavily referenced, so it is book you might not want to assign if you know religion is a hot issue with your students and/or parents. Similarly, homosexuality (considered sodomy in that time period) is also an issue in the book, so you may not find it appropriate for your classroom library.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Miniaturist for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:



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