Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Resenha: Miniaturista por Jessie Burton

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Recommended: No

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.

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18 thoughts on “Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

    • It depends on what you look for in a book, I think! Some reviews are very positive, others not so much on this one. It’s just one of those that are very divisive of opinions 🙂 at least it’s a quick read, so if you read it and also don’t like it, it’s not too much time invested.

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      • True, that’s always the case. Still, I often notice that reviews do have a certain influence on how I about a book when I’m going to start reading it.
        I read a book once – don’t recall which one exactly – after reading a ton of bad reviews about it and I liked it so much more, just because my expectations were so low, haha. Oh well, we’ll see! Maybe we’ll agree and maybe we won’t. 😀

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  2. Great review! 🙂 It is a well-written book in terms of language and the way Burton managed to portray 17th-century Amsterdam – the atmosphere and the background are enjoyable, however, the characterization is definitely lacking – some of the characters express views that belong basically in the 20th or 21st century, and the miniaturist herself lacks substance – she’s supposed to be one of the central and most enigmatic characters, but she remains totally unconvincing, by the bleak end of it all you are just left with a bunch of unanswered questions.

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    • I think the miniaturist itself was not a mystery that was cleared up very well… I read this some months ago now so the details escape me, but I remember thinking that I didn’t understand why exactly she was doing those things. What do you think?

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      • Yes that’s true. The only information we have is that of her father when Nella was caught hiding in the room. He did explain she was more interested in teaching people lessons via her miniatures but it wasn’t a very elaborate explanation, I suppose! All the other mysteries regarding the characters, I think, were explained!

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