Inspired by a real doll house, built by the 17th century noblewoman Petronella Oortman and designed to reflect her own life, Jessie Burton has taken the idea and run with it to create a wonderfully atmospheric novel about a fictional heroine and her own doll house. The original can be seen in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and in photographs online, and it’s worth doing this before reading the book to get an idea of the scale of the house.
The book tells the story of 18 year old Nella and her marriage of convenience to a wealthy Dutch merchant Johannes Brandt. Although he treats her kindly, there is something very wrong with the marriage which only gradually becomes apparent. The gift of this elaborate and very expensive house seems symbolic of all the secrets and mysteries that are the background to the narrative. As Nella receives more and more miniatures to put into her house, these seem to foretell what is going to happen and Nella has to question her preconceptions of all that surrounds her.
I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual and intriguing literary historical mystery, and found it a real page-tuner. With skilful pacing, the suspense builds slowly but inexorably, with more and more secrets being revealed to uncover the complete story. The atmosphere of 17th century Amsterdam is vivid and authentically portrayed, and the characters are well-rounded and complex. If you loved Erin Morgernstern’s ‘The Night Circus’ you’ll enjoy The Minaturist.
Emma runs Bookish in Crickhowell