At 18, Nella marries Johannes Brandt a wealthy Amsterdam merchant whom she barely knows. When Nella arrives in Amsterdam after her marriage she enters a household which seems shrouded in secrets. An often absent husband who shows no desire to consummate their marriage, and an aloof, cold sister-in-law who rules over the house with an iron fist. Her new husband buys her a dolls house as a distraction. The craftsman Nella hires to make the objects for the house, the miniaturist, begins to send her pieces she didn’t request, items which are seem to foretell events.
The book is written in the first person narrative, and we therefore never know any more then Nella. Slowly we and Nella learn the mysterious secrets of the Brandt family, secrets which will have devastating consequences for everyone involved.
Burton creates complex flawed, yet likable character who we come to care deeply for as the story unfolds. The main character Nella in particular we see transform from a child bride who is given a dolls house by her new husband as a distraction and is rendered catatonic by the discovery of the first shocking secret, to a strong woman who by the end is the one left holding everyone else together.
My only complaint with the book is way certain storylines are hinted at but never fully explored. This is most notable in the case of the miniaturist. Despite playing a central role in the book we know almost nothing about them beyond a few bare biographical details provided near the end. I would have liked to find out more about the miniaturist and their reasons for sending the items, and how they seem to know the most intimate details of people’s lives, secrets they have shared with no one. This of course is part of the mystery of the book and the appeal. Perhaps the author intends to write a sequel at some point from the perspective of the miniaturist which would be very interesting, or perhaps such details were lost in editing process.
Either way it was a very enjoyable and absorbing read. As a debut novel it is well researched and crafted. Burton looks set to become an author to watch.