I was really excited about this book when I read the premise for it, and in a lot of ways, it is a good read, but the ending is kind of… meh.
Set in the late 1600’s in Amsterdam, the story revolves around Nella, an eighteen year old country girl who is married off to a rich merchant, and finds herself in a house full of secrets, with a very expensive dolls house as a wedding gift. Things start to unravel as the mysterious Miniaturist employed to furnish the tiny house appears to know all the secrets of the household and the lives of the occupants are thrown into disarray.
The Miniaturist starts out a lot like Daphne Du Mauriers’ classic novel Rebecca. The protagonist is a very sweet, young, socially inexperienced girl with romantic ideas about what married life will be like. Her husband, Johannes, is distant, often away, and appears to be harbouring a secret, the nature of which could bring down the household. In Rebecca, Mrs Danvers is a scary figure, looming over the younger girl and belittling her. In this book, Marin, Nella’s new sister in law is very much like that. The house in both books is a focal point, a sumptuously decorated battle ground, and motivation for all the characters who covet the wealth & lifestyle it represents.
This is where the problem lies however: by setting up your book to be a mystery like Rebecca, with long kept secrets threatening to emerge and engulf all the characters, you draw the reader in and give them the expectation that all will be revealed, … Well, we do find out most of the answers, but the main one, who the Miniaturist is, why she is doing what she does, how she does what she does… remains elusive. And not in a “wow, that was so deep, I now understand the human condition” kind of a way. It feels more like the author got a bit lost and changed her mind about the ending.
In a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter. Burton really evokes a time period and place so well, and her characters are very interesting and likeable, or downright awful. You understand the social pressures that drive them all, the religiosity of the time, the social place that women held. You feel that something is very wrong, and that something bad might be happening. The tiny house that Nella is given, a replica of the house they live in, feels enchanted and fascinating, as well as being a very strange gift for a wife. All of these aspects are so good, that I can see why it became a best seller.