So you know when you hear about a book, like, literally everywhere, and you’re, like, “OMG I have to get this, it must be amazing?” Yes, I’m look at you, The Miniaturist. There are two results off this. The first is that I get to read some historical fiction. I don’t mix well with historical fiction, unless it’s massively bigged up. Frankly, it’s because I know little-to-nothing about it. Hilary Mantel and Bernard Cornwall as a kid is the limit of my knowledge. And I know that Henry is going to dissolve the monasteries, damn it, and that the British win at Agincourt. However, because it’s massively bigged up, when it isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’m so much more disappointed than I should be. I’ve read reviews calling Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist a masterpiece. Lest the hype be getting to you, rest assured, it’s not. But, I’m not being harsh, I promise. What The Miniaturist is is one of the best debuts I’ve read in recent years, and, what’s more, a really good entry into historical literature.
Like many good stories, we start with change: in this case, Petronella “Nella” Oortman, with a good name and no money, has become Petronella Brandt, married to a wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. She enters his cold house, with his cold sister and strange servants: one a black man (black! He’s fascinating to Nella, so exotic, with his hair “like wool”) and the other a cocksure girl who’s perhaps a little too familiar. Brandt doesn’t touch her. Instead, he locks himself away with his maps and charts and sales, and Nella is left confused, lost in a world so different from her country life, without even the surety of sex and a child that she expects even as she fears it. Continue reading