Genre: Historical Fiction
Narrative Style: third person, chronological
Synopsis: Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin her new life as wife to wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt. Immediately, she notices that things are not what they should be. Johannes is distant and does not come to her bed. His sister is difficult and she and Nella are locked in battle almost immediately. But it is when Johannes buys his wife a cabinet version of their house, to be filled with miniature furniture and figures that things start to fall apart.
The story at the heart of The Miniaturist is an interesting one and the atmosphere of Amsterdam in the late 1600s is convincingly suffocating, however, I found that I had little interest in reading on and it was a real struggle at times to get it finished.
The story focuses on Nella and her attempts to understand the secrets of those around her. She is young and a country girl and she often misinterprets events. As such, the reader has to try and work out the actual truth, separating it from Nella and her servant, Cornelia’s imaginings. This was quite an easy task and was one of the reasons I felt the novel lacked tension. There were no real surprises.
When the miniaturist starts to send unasked for models that seem to predict events, Nella becomes unsettled. This was interesting and suitably creepy. It was hard to tell whether it was all just in Nella’s head or if the miniaturist really was some sort of witch. This wasn’t resolved which I found a little disappointing.
Finally, the characters were stereotypical and unconvincing. I was intrigued by the story of Johannes and Jack but as the details unfolded it seemed just a bit too familiar. Johannes, the rich merchant with his unholy (at the time) passion for other men and Jack, the whore who would sell out anybody for money were two-dimensional and I felt little for either of them. When Nella first sees Johannes and Jack together, she faints and then wants to report him. But in no time at all, she is supportive of him and so very understanding. There is little sense of why she might have had such a profound change of heart and again it felt a little unconvincing. Similarly, the relationship between Marin, Johannes sister and the negro servant seems too much like a cliche to really involve the reader.
So, for me, the whole thing fell a little flat. Maybe it would have been more interesting if there was more of the other character’s perspectives. Perhaps then they would have been fleshed out a bit more. It left me feeling more than a little empty.