The Miniaturist is a beautiful book. Painful, yes. Brutal at times. But a completely absorbing tale, enchantingly told.
I must admit, I bought The Miniaturist without really knowing what it was about. It seduced me through a combination of a gorgeous cover and an inescapable presence in UK bookstores. I imagined it would be something quite gothic and unsettling, dark in magical way. Most likely about a miniaturist who controls another’s life through a doll house. Or something like that.
I was almost completely wrong. The Miniaturist is a story of real-life Gothic, of the darkness and danger of being an outsider in society. It focusses on Petronella, a young bride from the countryside who moves to Amsterdam to join the household of the near-stranger she has just married. Nella has dreams of happiness and romance, but her husband is distant, his sister imperious and cold, and her new life makes her feel powerless and ridiculous. In order to entertain herself, she orders some miniatures to go in the dollhouse her husband got her as a wedding gift — and is both excited and terrified when she receives un-asked for creations that echo her life in ways that no stranger could possibly know.
But the miniatures are not really the focus of the story. It’s impossible to talk about the many wonders of this book without potentially spoiling the experience — it’s a tapestry of secrets and mysteries, and I don’t want to pull on even the smallest thread here. But at its heart, The Miniaturist is about how the disenfranchised struggle to define themselves in a society that gives them little power. It’s a novel about different kinds of bravery, about loneliness and family and love. Far from possessing the gothic ethereality I expected, The Miniaturist is a highly political book with social commentary that cuts like a knife.
Add in the novel’s intricate character development and its gorgeously readable prose, and you have a must-read on your heads. Pick up a copy if you can. It’s a truly wonderful book.