After reading The Muse, I knew I had to find Jessie Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist. Set in 17th century Amsterdam, The Miniaturist draws inspiration from Petronella Oortman’s nine-room dollhouse, which is a permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. These elaborate dollhouses were cultivated and showcased in front room parlors as status symbols among wealthy wives. In Burton’s novel, Petronella’s (or Nella for short), holds many more secrets.
A young bride from the countryside, 18-year-old Nella joins her husband, Johannes Brandt, and his household in the wealthiest quarter in Amsterdam. Johannes is a successful merchant trader and often away on business or at his office on the docks, leaving Nella alone with her unmarried sister-in-law, Marin, and their two servants.
This is not the married life that Nella’s mother described to her. She scarcely sees her husband and it seems as though they will never consummate their marriage. Her sister-in-law seems the woman of the house more than she. And, the two servants are too familiar in their behavior. Johannes’s gift to her of a “cabinet” is childish and unfit for her station, but it is when she commissions miniatures for the bare rooms that her life takes a chilling turn.
The cabinet is an exact replica of the Brandt home, and the pieces that Nella commissions the miniaturist to create come back as precise mirrors of the real life items they are meant to represent. Nella is delighted yet surprised by their accuracy. Soon the miniaturist is sending items unasked for yet desired within the secret chambers of Nella’s heart. As the deliveries from the miniaturist begin to foreshadow tragic events in the Brandt household, Nella is terrified of the power of the cabinet and the mysterious miniaturist.
The cabinet’s secrets are only one of many within the Brandt household. Throughout The Miniaturist many more secrets unfold – some that will ultimately lead to death and others to life.
PAIR IT WITH marzipan cookies or your favorite sugary treat.