The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

read by Jessie Burton

Beyond the hype, there is so much in The Miniaturist to admire and enjoy that it would be wrong to dwell too much on the few faults. The setting and Gothic edge alone in the opening pages of the novel are enough to urge the reader on: it is 1686 and a teenage bride arrives at the grand house of her new merchant husband in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam only to be met by his oddly behaved sister and black manservant. Her husband is absent from the house most days: abroad on business or spending perhaps too time with fellow merchants. His reluctance for any intimacy with his young wife, too, raises questions. Rivalry, envy and suspicion are rife, and life is firmly ruled by tradition, superstition and prejudice.

The historical details – in particular, the miniature house (a ‘cabinet house’) at the centre of the novel – are, it would seem, well researched and totally verifiable, and, thus, enchantingly intriguing. Some readers have complained at how the contemporary and the antique rub along badly within the novel and that the denouement has a decidedly postmodern feel. The author’s reference, early on, for example, to ‘layabouts’, does jump out of the page as particularly odd, as Burton struggles with language ancient and modern to find her voice. But such sour grapes cannot detract from what is a remarkable read and from someone who is clearly destined for even greater things. As an actor, the author brings much to the reading of her novel, and The Miniaturist cannot be recommended highly enough.

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