The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist

by Jessie Burton


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Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam—a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion—a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

”There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .“

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 replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand—and fear—the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062306814
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/26/2014
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Jessie Burton was born in London in 1982. She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama. The Miniaturist is her first novel.


A Conversation with Jessie Burton, Author of The Miniaturist

What was the inspiration for The Miniaturist?

I was visiting Amsterdam when I came upon this dolls' house in the Rijksmuseum. It had been built in 1686 and was a thing of true decorative beauty. The owner was a woman called Petronella Oortman, who had commissioned it as an exact replica of her own townhouse in the heart of the city. She had spent as much money on it as you might on a real house, and miniature pieces had been made for its interior as far away as Japan and China. I was so curious as to why she would miniaturise her existence, why she would purchase food she couldn't eat and chairs she couldn't sit on...and then there was the city of Amsterdam and its history. A place of trade and power, contradictions of outward modesty and bursting inward pomp - and the dolls' house was a perfect symbol of this, of the need for secrets, for control, for domestic harmony that covered over inner chaos.

Is there any part of you in Nella? In any of the other characters?

I expect there is. My best friend says she can hear me in some of Nella's lines, in some of Cornelia's too. Marin voices things that are in me, but so do Otto and Johannes. I am sort of in all of them, and then completely separate from them too. They are their own people, and I end up on the periphery, and that is how it should be.

What do you like about writing historical fiction? Do you think it allows for anything you wouldn't be able to do in a novel with a contemporary setting?

This book is set in 1686 because the real Petronella Oortman had a dolls' house commissioned for her in 1686. I wanted to honour that time, and yet I did not want to be a slave to it. Part of my intention was an impressionistic offering to the reader of what life might have been like then, certainly not to smother them with a drab historical recreation. I was as diligent as it was possible to be - and it was fascinating to discover the social habits, the food, the clothing, the grieving processes, the feasting - and then to realise, in many ways it was not so long ago, and love, and pain were very much experienced the same as they are no. I think contemporary settings probably offer the writer more lassitude in which to express herself. But I have characters with Enlightenment instincts, burgeoning desires for female rights, for racial and sexual equality. Just because that was not overtly expressed in extant documents of the time, does not mean on a private level they were not felt. So I have gifted myself this nice synthesis of eternal contemporary preoccupations that also find a home in the 'past'.?

You've been an actress. How has acting affected your writing?

I think the two disciplines are quite different! Acting is communal, it thrives on mutuality, of leaving ego at the door. In writing, you have to be director, actors, and also the draconian producer who makes sure you turn up and do the work. You are godlike. But I do think my training has aided me in terms of getting into a character's head - yet all good writers can do that, I would hope. Being an actress has given me a sense of generosity to all characters, even the 'bad' ones - to understand that being a human on this planet is a 360 degrees experience - that just because x says words to y in a certain way, it doesn't follow y receives them how x intended, or indeed even that x had even planned them to have a particular effect. No one is inherently evil, or a saint. Acting has given me an appreciation of the ambiguous, because the best playwrights often leave it open as to what the character wants. Character is fluid. Life is a series of reactions, lived in the moment and suffered (and repaired) at leisure.

Who have you discovered lately?

I have really enjoyed Life Drawing, by Robin Black. Such a good book, with scalpel precision peeling back the beauty and pain of a long marriage and everyone's crosses they openly or secretly bear. Also, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. Futuristic, yet rooted in a love for the world we may lose if we're not too careful. Arts and Entertainments by Christopher Beha was so close to the bone about celebrity and fame and reality TV, I almost read it peeping through my fingers, and I am reading Erica Jong's Fear of Flying for the first time, and I really don't know what has taken me so long.

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The Miniaturist 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 91 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it in one long evening today, not for the faint hearted, but a strong story line interesting characters. a historical novel well set and portrayed. A great spin on a famous doll house
emtgirlCV More than 1 year ago
This book was exceptional:) it was a bit slow in the beginning , then it started to pick up speed and read it with in a 48 hour time period :) It was  was character driven which I love and wonderful world building!  For those that DIDN'T read this book: SHAME on you for using this review site as a chat or pick up site . Authors depend on honest review and ratings! I see you using this as a way to ruin her " real " reviews!:( For the person that didn't know what the story was even about and gave it a low rating..... pick the book up and at the very least READ the synopsis. It may give you a clue! Then you may actually pick up and read it.  I'm just bad, that a few thoughtless people would do this.....please for all our sakes , Grow up! I shall be listing a more in depth review on Goode ads and other sites
Sandy-thereadingcafe More than 1 year ago
3.75 stars:  THE MINIATURIST is an historical fiction storyline set in seventeenth century Amsterdam. Told from close third person POV, this is the story of newlywed Nella Oortman –an eighteen year old young woman whose new and much older husband –merchant trader-Johannes Brandt is emotionally distant but not unkind. As the days blend into weeks Nella learns there are secrets within the Brandt household that will change her life forever. But a gift from her husband of a miniature replica of their home will begin to foretell of a dark and dangerous future. With each new miniature piece that arrives, Nella fears that someone is watching their every move. The storyline follows a few months in the life of Petronella Oortman Brandt whose relationship with her husband is a matter of convenience. Left alone to her own devices, Nella begins to uncover family secrets hidden behind closed doors and secret rooms. Johannes reputation as a trader has garnered him a few loyal followers but it is his dalliances on the side that will see the beginning of the end. A negotiated promise of sales fails to produce the desired results and someone will seek revenge. THE MINIATURIST is a storyline that is set in 1686 around the time of the sugar cane plantation exploitation and slavery in the British West Indies. As the Dutch begin to import the candied sweet the business of trading and selling is one of critical survival. Here in lies a part of the storyline where Johannes Brandt’s personal and private life become fodder for public consumption-the politics and religion of the time will show no mercy. Johanne’s sister Marin plays a major role throughout the storyline but like Johanne she is emotionally distant and lacks any sort of literary color. Most of the household members remain static in their development but Johanne’s one time friends will play a role in his downfall.  It is not until the end of the story that we get a glimpse into the Brandt family dynamics and the darker secrets that they share.  THE MINIATURIST is a well written, dark and dramatic tale about family, betrayal, love and loss. It is a tragic look at life in the 1600s-from slavery to racism; judgment and religion; health, welfare and survival in a world where people have set themselves upon a pedestal of unreachable heights. The miniaturist is always in the background but never thoroughly explored-there are so many unanswered questions as to the who and why of the miniaturist’s involvement in the story--for all intents and purposes another storyline is required to clear up some of the mystery and to acknowledge to what purpose the miniaturist played in their lives. There is a hint of the paranormal with the miniaturist’s prophetic gifts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down. Loved the setting in Amsterdam + the mysteries. Interesting female characters. Good ending.
TiredofGarbage More than 1 year ago
I have to agree with the Page Turner review - it is hard to put this one down. There is a storytelling gift at work here, and the author keeps many secrets up her sleeve until the final third of the book. Recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love historical novels, so when I saw the book jacket of The Miniaturist, I was intrigued. I found this story to be so interesting and unusual. I learned so much about 17th Century Amsterdam. There were so many twists and turns. It is definitely a page turner.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
Oh my goodness! This is one exceptionally incredibly good book! I cannot rave about it enough! The best way to describe The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is to call it heartrending novel with a great deal of mystery and a touch of magical fantasy. Rich with emotion and mystifyingly dark, this unique tale gripped me from the start and kept me turning each page, anxious to find out the secret of the miniaturist and the fate of the ever-evolving three-dimensional characters. The novel is set in 17th century Amsterdam and vividly depicts the social and economic living standards of the time. Eighteen year old Nella arrives in the city to the home of Johannes Brandt with whom a marriage has been arranged. But her groom is an enigma, odd in many ways, and distant, even though he is kind to her. Soon after the wedding, she receives a gift of a miniature replica of their home complete with furniture and little people resembling her, Johannes, and his sisters. She begins corresponding with the mysterious miniaturist, but is unable to discern who they are. The miniatures are not what they seem. In fact, they foretell the future. And it is this that adds tension and a great deal of conflict to the story. It is truly disconcerting. Through the miniatures, several dark secrets and tragedies occur, and Nella finds herself in a desperate frenzy to save those she loves. This is a clever, magnificently plotted novel. Although the opening chapters can be a little slow, with every page, the story unfolds and becomes ever more gripping. The dark secrets are revealed bit by bit, in a shocking way, so that one cannot help but race to the end. The story not only stirs up emotion, it shocks and sweeps the reader away with its opulent storyline. A truly magnificent novel, brilliantly written. 
JupFL_reader More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel and the character development was very compelling. However, it was a great deal of build up for a somewhat dismal ending. I would say it is worth the time to read, but prepare for a bit of a let down. In addition, it is not a very uplifting book - very serious and somewhat dark.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A sad, dark tale with a hopeful ending & an unsolved mystery.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
The Miniaturist is the first novel by British author, Jessie Burton. Amsterdam in the late 1680s is a prosperous place for merchants of the VOC (Dutch East India Company). When eighteen-year-old Petronella Oortman, newly married to wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt, arrives at his luxurious home on the Herengracht, she is nervous but expectant: surely her life can only get better now that she has left Assendelft.  But Johannes is absent, and his sister Marin is less than welcoming. When her husband finally returns, things do not go as Nella had expected. He does, however, bring her a remarkable gift: a replica of their home in miniature. She engages the services of a miniaturist to craft items to furnish this amazing creation, but is disturbed by the accuracy of certain extra pieces, pieces she did not order.  As Nella becomes familiar with the household, it is soon apparent that neither people nor circumstances are what they first seem, and that the life she had expected, and perhaps even hoped, for is unlikely to be the one she will have. Before long, she discovers the shocking truth about her marriage, learns disturbing facts about her husband’s business dealings, surprising truths about other household members and about the elusive but seemingly prescient miniaturist. Nella begins to realise that while there is abundant prosperity, there is very little tolerance in this Amsterdam “Where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder”. Within three months, this young innocent country girl has to draw on reserves she was unaware she had, along the way witnessing a drowning, a stabbing and a sexual act, attending a funeral, seeing a man condemned to death, bribing a prison guard, and handling the sale of a valuable commodity.   As she weaves a fictional world around real life characters, Burton also provides the reader with a wealth of information about late seventeenth century Amsterdam. Her extensive research is apparent in every paragraph. How interesting to imagine a time when sugar was rare enough to be a valuable commodity, and to actually view Nella’s cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum.  Burton also treats the reader to some marvellously evocative descriptive prose: “A spray of red pimples covers the second man’s forehead. He’s little more than a boy. God has been malicious with his paintbrush” and “The threads of Nella’s imagination begin to spool, embroidering conversations, patches of which it stitches loosely together” and “There is water everywhere she looks, lagoons as still as glass, patched with murk like a foxed mirror when the weak sun moves behind cloud” are just a few examples. This amazing debut novel is a brilliant read. 4.5 stars
SMHarris More than 1 year ago
A well written tale that includes a spray of mystery, THE MINIATURIST left port a little too slowly for me at the start of the journey. Once the story did set sail, I gladly clung to the railing, enjoying the very intense, emotional voyage. If the author had only visited an additional port or two before drawing the tale to a close, I would have given it five stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At about the middle of the book until the end, I thought the relationship between husband and wife, and her compassion toward him was fairly improbable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have to admit I couldn't put this book down. I read it almost straight through, stopping only to go to sleep and picking it up immediately when I woke up. It gave an good overview of like in 17th century Amsterdam. The plot was very interesting, touching on themes not normally done in historical novels. The ending was ambiguous, never giving away what part the miniaturist actually played in the events that's that transpired or how the changes in the dollhouse occured. Despite this, it's a excellent novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down. Wonderful characters in an enthralling setting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an unusual story set in a time and place that is rarely written about. That makes it very interesting and I was disappointed when the story ended. What happened to the people remaining in the household?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this debut by Jessie Burton. Her writing is poetic in its ability to allow the reader to inhabit that particular space in time. Lovely!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lyrical prose, riveting plot, fascinating characters. Wanted to know more about miniaturist though and meet her...
Thebooktrail-com More than 1 year ago
The Miniaturist is the most exciting premise I have come across in fiction for a long time. Jessie Burton’s imaginative writing however is the real treasure of this book. The characters are vivid and real, so much so that even the ones you don’t like at the start – (Marin) reveals a lot more depth to her as the events of the story unfold. And like a dollhouse, the more you look, the more you see and you can’t believe the small things you missed along the way. The shadows of the dollhouse provide intrigue and mystery and there is a feeling that a Jessie leads Nella down the twisty streets and along the dank canals, she is doing exactly the same to her readers leading them on a tale of discovery and mystery. Some things you can guess others not, but the big reveal when Nella finds out is still a thrill for how she comes to that conclusion. There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed – a message from the miniaturist or an apt description of the novel? Nella is a fascinating character – a woman who struggles to adapt to the social mores and expectations as the lady of the house. And Peebo – her parakeet – loved this nice little touch. Nella feels as trapped as Peebo is in a cage of her own – a gilded cage at that since she is given wealth and a new status in society but one very much controlled by her role in life and the men around her. Women of the time had little, if any, independence and were dictated to by men leaving them with no power of their own. Marriage, paradoxically, was seen by some as the only way for women to secure any influence over their own lives. But this marriage is to give Nella more challenges that it gives her influence.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book resonates with cruelty and judgment, and leaves the reader with no redemption. At all. Though sold as a mystery story, it merely drags you from one dour scene to the next, sprinkling unlikely clues as to the title character's identity, obviously done to keep the reader moving forward through an ever more bleak tale. And ultimately? There is no answer to the question of who the Miniaturist is-- there is just a smoldering pile of human wreckage to ponder. The history of man's inhumanity to man aside, I wonder at people who decide to take a beautiful work of art and wind a yarn of such misery around it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slow read for me, perhaps due to the style of writing. I kept reading thinking there was an interesting story with all the build up and unanswered questions, but i was disappointed and left wondering what was this book really about. Would not recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story, difficult to stop reading as you yearn to discover what will happen. Look forward to reading more from her. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Miniaturist is a depressing nonsensical novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well drawn characters caught in mysterious circumstances. So many questions but who to ask for the answers. Who is ally and who is enemy. Once started you can't put it down. It captures the imagination
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this for book club and felt very disappointed with the story line. Slow read and felt they glossed over the minaturist! Would not recommend to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A chapter or two into this book and I was wondering if I would finish it. I went to read the reviews to help me understand what the heck was going on, which helped. From then on I was hooked. What an original story, and so well written! It reminded me a little of Elizabeth Gilbert's THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS, not at all in the plot, but in how unique and original it is. So many novels are the same old, same old plots (i.e. woman returns to her childhood town and discovers some old family secrets and falls in love with the local handyman). This book was quite the page turner once I got into it, and I am so glad I didn't give up on it.