Genres: Mystery, magic realism, historic fiction
I’ve been eyeing this book for a while, since it’s been published in 2014. It’s gotten so much buzz since then about its uniqueness and enchanting story. I am trying to broaden my reading experience, and so Magic Realism is something I really wanted to get a bit more of, making this book quite perfect for me. I also must confess the beautiful cover was such a selling point.
It tells the story of Nella, a young 18-year-old girl who moves to Amsterdam in 1686, after marrying a man twenty years her senior, Johannes Brandt. As a wedding gift, she receives from her husband a doll house, a beautiful copy of the house she now lives in, and Nella decides to hire a miniaturist to decorate it. However, the miniatures she receives are perfect replicas of the things surrounding her, from her furniture to the people she knows, although she never ordered all of it. Who is this enigmatic person and how does he know so much about Nella’s life? While trying to solve this, Nella also tries to adapt to her new life in Amsterdam as a married woman and to her new family, which seems just as mysterious as the miniaturist.
This book is so full of promises, and it’s Jessie Burton’s debut novel. I prefer being a little softer on my criticism of first novels, but there are too many elements in this book which bothered me and I really tried to like it, but just couldn’t. The characters were more like caricatures of actual people, with unrealistic personalities and dialogues. The story goes from boring and slow to shocking very quickly, in a way that almost seems forced. The writing style was not my favorite either, although that might also be due to the translation I got (I read this one in Portuguese).
The beginning of the book seems to me like Burton read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and thought “ok, great book but what if Maxim de Winter’s secret was… something else?” and thus The Miniaturist was born. There are too many mysteries that are either left unanswered of whose resolutions left me unsatisfied. The construction of tension is definitely there and it does build up, but then it feels more like it turns into an emptying balloon instead of an explosion.
This book is such a page-turner, though. Once you pick it up, it’s really hard to put it down, despite all my criticism above. The author surely did a good job invoking the mystery aura we’re promised, and this thriller has such a unique setting in 17th century Amsterdam. It was just not a book that fit my personal taste.
Verdict: I don’t recommend this book because its mystery doesn’t feel properly solved and nicely knit together. The writing style is too flourished for me, but it certainly is a page turner, and I look forward to seeing if I maybe like other books by this author. If you’re interested in magic realism, I suggest One Hundred Years of Solitude.