Reviewed by David Young
It’s late 17th century Holland, and Petronella (Nella) Oortmans’ father dies, leaving large debts which can only be paid off by marrying Nella to the 20 years older Johannes Brandt, a prosperous Amsterdam merchant.
As a wedding present Brandt gives her a doll’s house version of his magnificent Herengracht house, which Nella begins to fill with dolls from a local miniaturist. However from the dolls she receives it becomes apparent that the miniaturist knows a lot about the affairs of the Brandt household – not only that, she is able to predict its future…..
As the sexual activities and proclivities of Brandt and his mysterious and reclusive sister Marin begin to drag them down into a vortex of scandal, Nella finds herself whirled through a series of rapidly escalating crises which threaten the very existence of the Brandt family.
The Miniaturist is a fictionalised biography of actual 17th century people, and the author has done a remarkable job of recreating the atmosphere of the Dutch Golden Age, its febrile money-making, closed social and political circles and prudish mores. What begins as a gentle and intriguing mystery turns into a real high-paced thriller, both superbly handled. You can almost smell the streets.
I found this book so engrossing that while reading it on the train I missed my station – twice! A most promising debut and I look forward to Jessie Burton’s next novel.
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Ebook of The Miniaturist available here.