A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by Ecco Books in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.
“I thought she was stealing my life, but in truth she opened its compartments and let me look inside.”
The Miniaturist is a sheer oddity of a novel–every bit as curious in its workmanship as the miniature figures described in the novel; as delightfully artistic as it is thought-provokingly disconcerting. To say I enjoyed The Miniaturist would be to go too far, and yet, I didn’t dislike it. Burton’s novel isn’t one that makes a reader feel ambivalent, however–it’s impossible not to be utterly moved by her evocative descriptions of love, jealousy, secrets, and betrayals. Burton is a powerful writer, and one who has clearly performed her research when it comes to unveiling daily life in 17th century Amsterdam.
But while the prose is clever and the setting and characters filled with life, I found Burton’s weaving plot disappointingly spotty, with the magical elements seeming to appear when it seemed convenient to the story, and then drop out of the novel entirely, with no real explanation at all, when they no longer served. I’d have liked some thread to anchor the miniaturist’s element into the tale a little better. I liked the character as a catalyst, but as a plot device, she seemed fairly hollow. Because she’s the title character, I kept wanting her to be a little less abstract, and while I was willing to wait for the payoff, it never really came.
I did enjoy seeing Nella’s development, and watching as her relationships with her new family members unfolded. Johannes, as complex as he was, became one of my favorite characters.
In the end, I enjoyed the prose for the most part. However, it was occasionally starkly crass in a way that, while clearly angled at being representative of real life, seemed jarringly out of place with the rest of the writing. I liked the character portrayals, if not always their actions. And I was intrigued, if not always satisfied, by the plot. As a public reviewer, I always hesitate to say so, but I’m not sure I actually liked The Miniaturist. But you can’t love them all, right?
“When you have truly come to know a person, Nella–when you see beneath the sweeter gestures, the smiles–when you see the rage and the pitiful fear which each of us hide–then forgiveness is everything. We are all in desperate need of it.”
Two stars? Maybe two and a half. It really is quite well written. I just feel fairly ambivalent about it. Re: language, etc., there are two f-bombs from an antagonistic character and some fairly graphic sex, including one encounter which ends up being described a few times.