Book Review: The Miniaturist

The Sunday Times assigned the book the status of Number One bestseller, in 2014.
The year is 1686, the place, Amsterdam.
18-year old Petronella (Nella) Oortman has travelled all the way from the country, to the richest quarter of Amsterdam, to meet her husband, Johannes Brandt, a reputed, and rich, merchant trader. The marriage is an ‘arranged’ one, to get the Oortman family, genteel, but penurious, out of impending bankruptcy. She knocks at the door. It opens silently. And she enters, clutching the cage of Peebo, her parrot.
She is met by darkness and mysterious shadows. Then one of the shadows detaches itself, then another, and another. Nella is grateful that they are all flesh and blood. They are Marin Brandt, Cornelia, the maid, and dark-skinned Otto, the man servant. None of them, apparently, knows where Johannes, her husband, is. Nella is assigned a room upstairs and Peebo is taken away from her and consigned to the kitchen.
Nella meets her husband the next day and he gifts her a dollhouse made to look like the house she is living in. Nella hires a miniaturist to help her furnish the doll house. When the first batch of ‘furnishings’ is delivered to Nella, the latter realises that not only does the miniaturist seem to know every detail about the house she is living in, but subsequent deliveries prove that be able to foresee things happening before they actually do.
At the same time, there are mysterious inexplicable things happening within, and outside, the house. And Nella is stalked by a strange golden-haired woman whenever she leaves the house.
The book is plot-driven, rather than character-driven.It was inspired by Petronella Oortman’s doll’s house on display at the Rijksmuseum. It paints a grim picture of the conservative mindset of Amsterdam at the time, especially regarding homosexuality and black people.
The book is an engaging one, well-crafted and fast paced. It haunts you, and the prose creates magic and momentum.The author has painted a canvas with dark colours with a hint of light shades. Between the two, scarcely visible, is a darkness that seems to spread, inexorably, threatening to overwhelm both shades and colour. The novel both shocks and awes.
Read the book for the story. Then read it again for the atmosphere. And again, for the prose.
Have a blessed day.

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