The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

Nelly’s Dollhouse

I love history, including books, movies, games that mix history with fiction. This book has caught my interest and I started to read it as an escape from having read a lot of thriller novels, even though I’m left with an unsolved mystery. I have ever seen Nella Oortman’s cabinet house at Rijksmuseum – Amsterdam, but I had never paid attention, not only to this specific cabinet house, but also to all of the cabinet houses in its section. I even had never expected that cabinet houses were seen as a status, as only wealthy families had it. I’d only thought that it’s just what children used to play with. Toys.

The story takes place in 1680’s during the VOC era, Amsterdam. Petronella (Nella) Oortman, whose marriage is arranged by her parents, arrives at the doorstep of her husband Johannes Brandt’s house only to meet his sharp-tongued sister, Marin Brandt, whom she’s mistaken as a housemaid. Both ladies couldn’t seem to get along with each other. Nella is a young and naive girl, and Peebo, her parakeet that she has brought from her hometown Assendelft irritates Marin. Johannes Brandt is a busy merchant who “lives” in his office with his beloved dogs Rezeki and Dhana. Her newly married life seems dull at first until she receives a cabinet house from her husband as a wedding gift. The cabinet house is the exact replica of the house. Since then, Nella keeps receiving a packet containing miniatures of everyone who lives in the house, including their pets. There’s no name of the sender, only a stamp of a sun that points her to a house that’s located on Kalverstraat. Nella visits her a few times, but she never answers the door, and her neighbours also say that she will never answer visitations. They say that the woman distances herself from society.

The cabinet house and its miniatures disturb their life as she also receives the “updated” version of the miniatures, meaning that the miniaturist either:

  • Is a bothersome woman who stalks their private life
  • Is a clairvoyant who predicts future
  • Or perhaps, the miniaturist is just someone involved in their daily life?

Although this well written novel is not without flaws, I still give it the highest rating. This novel, after all, is fiction. I would say that I’d prefer the story to be a bit more believable, as I think that a little adjustment wouldn’t hurt the plots. That it would just help make the story believable. Nevertheless, this novel kept me entertained from the start to the end. It’s all what matters!

One more thing that made me interest to pick this novel is because I’ve been “teleported” into Anna Prinsenhoek’s life, an Amsterdammer who migrated to Nederlands-Indie to be with her husband, and also into Piranti’s life as a njai of a Dutch officer, and I thought,’let me teleport into the life of Dutch people themselves during the same VOC era!’

My weird, hilarious thought after reading this book: ‘so, when the VOC was in Indonesia, their family in Amsterdam played with a cabinet house, waiting for daddy to come home?‘ 😉

The book cover is very eye-catching! I love it! The Dutch translated version of this book is “Het Huis aan de Gouden Bocht.” I must say that I’m not really fond of the book cover of the Dutch language version.

The Miniaturist
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office--leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin. But Nella's world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized…