Book review – The Miniaturist

Book Review – The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton

Title – The Miniaturist

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Jessie Burton

First published – 2014

Edition reviewed – 2017, by Picador

Enjoyment rating – 6/10

There are no spoilers in this review


Petronella (Nella) Brandt is a country girl, the newly-wed bride of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt of Amsterdam. She arrives in Amsterdam to join a household of four people; her husband, Johannes; his sister, Marin; his man servant, Otto; and his sister’s maid servant, Cornelia. She has to learn how to fit in with the family, each of whom has secrets, in a city whose sole yardstick of value is wealth.

Or is it? Johannes gives Nella a realistic model of her new house as a wedding present. Nella wants model people to occupy it and contacts a miniaturist to make them. When they arrive, they are uncannily accurate and detailed. Furthermore, they seem to reflect events that are happening in the full-size house.

The sins of the present begin to reveal the secrets of the past, not just to the household but to men of power and influence, men who have no reason for covering them up. Slowly a storm of malice raises a surge that threatens to sweep away the household. How much will Nella be able to preserve?


Despite its title, the book is not really about the model house, the seemingly prophetic dolls and the woman who makes them – the miniaturist. These are plot devices to keep you turning pages – which they do successfully. They are also part of an extended metaphor about the powerlessness of the inhabitants of the full-size house to be able to shape their own destiny. The miniaturist herself, we discover, is trying to build a professional life in a world where a woman is simply not allowed to do that.

And this is the heart of the novel. It is the struggle by each of the women, Nella, Marin, Cornelia and the miniaturist, to achieve self-realisation in a world where a woman’s only value in society is as a wife and mother.

I don’t think the novel fully delivers on this. It’s a feeling rather than analysis, but the characters’ motivations seem rather sketchy, and perhaps even unlikely. This hinders rather than prevents the development of the reader’s sympathy for the characters, and certainly I felt enough for them that the narrative hooks kept me reading.

Finally, the quality of the writing. Brilliant. Beautiful. Compelling. I’m not going to reveal the climax of the novel, but it’s clearly been constructed with intense care and the effect is dazzling.  

Friday Fictioneers – In the Keukenhof Gardens

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

This week, I’m afraid my link to the prompt is tenuous. The picture is of a place in Holland, I think, so I’ve written a story set there.


In the Keukenhof Gardens

I walk, gravel scraping beneath my feet, and a gentle breeze stroking me like the tender fingertips of a lover. Scarlet and golden blooms murmur beside the dark lake, their scent glowing.

Faint music hangs like wood-smoke in the air, luring me onward.

The music swells, raucous dance-music on a mechanical organ rasping in a harmonious dissonance, while people laugh and applaud.

All the world’s emotion shrills through those organ pipes.

I sing.

I dance.

My tears flow warm and comforting as I see my part in the dance of life and rejoice that it holds so much of love.

Inlinkz – click here to join the fun!

In the Keukenhof Gardens

This story is a fictionalised account of an actual experience I had in the Keukenhof Gardens. These gardens are in Holland, close to Amsterdam. They are absolutely magnificent, and are open to the public for eight weeks every year, a ‘must see’ if you’re visiting Amsterdam.  You can read and see more about the gardens here:


In the Keukenhof Gardens

Orange, scarlet and golden blooms sing softly beside the dark lake. Silver light reflects peacefully from ripples in the lake’s waters. The scent of thousands of flowers glows in the air.

I walk, slowly, along curved paths. Gravel scrapes under my feet. April sunshine lies warm and weightless across my shoulders. A gentle breeze strokes me, like feathers, like silk, like the tender fingertips of a lover.

Faint and distant music hangs like wood-smoke in the air, tickling, teasing, and I follow. The tuneless tune allures, rousing me, and I follow. The tone becomes harsher. There are others on the path. Still I follow.

The path broadens, the music loud now, raucous dance-music on a mechanical organ rasping out the joys and sorrows of the world. People talk, laugh, shout, and the dance sweeps up their voices into harmonious dissonance. It booms in my head like brass and tinkles like crystalline snowflakes.

All the emotion in all the world shrills through those organ pipes, crashes with those cymbals, the drum beats driving the dance before me and after me. I sing beside the deep waters; I dance beside the orange and scarlet blooms. Silver tears ripple silently down my cheeks as I see my part in the dance – and rejoice that it holds so much of the gold of love.