The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

There are books that are masculine and there are books that are feminine, and this is decidedly a feminine book. Set in 1686 Amsterdam, the book tells the tale of eighteen year-old Petronella Oortman’s new life when she arrives at her new merchant husband’s home. The green flags are where I have marked the book’s “mysteries.”

What secrets are kept by her new sister-in-law Marin? Who is the Miniaturist and why does she do what she does (Alas, we are never told the answer to this question, which was a bit unfulfilling, and I have to guess that the Miniaturist is some sort of psychic and uses her powers through her art to try and help or warn her clients). Lastly, why is her new husband, Johannes, so detached from her? This is a book of mysteries, but more importantly than that, this is a book about relationships, love, forgiveness, betrayal, and perseverance. Life marches on, and so does Nella.

The story line between husband and wife was one I certainly was not expecting, and not one I could relate to or want to relate to. Why does Nella care about him after finding out what he did/who he is? I would have left the sucker to rot in prison, and let him march forward to his execution alone. She was not without resources or family, so she could have left, but Nella is not me, so Nella stayed and supported him. Should his punishment have been death by drowning? Certainly not, and the trial proceedings are chilling. Dangerous times.

I did enjoy the character of Nella and the things she persevered through and overcame. The book was a page turner, and kept me reading to finish the 392 page book in about two days. The story did make me think about how awful it would have been to be a woman in that period of time. I am glad I wasn’t, or if I was, that I have not retained hard memories of it now. Even the wealthy women were just property and slave puppets, mostly. Just an awful, awful time.

Interestingly, Petronella Oortman was a real Dutch woman who had a cabinet house. Today, it is on display at The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.