Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (3/5)

10 Sep

I saw a lot about this book when it first came out. If I recall, it was nominated for a Goodreads award, though I think that award went to All The Light We Cannot See. But there was fussing. And because this book is set in the 1600s and that’s a very hard time period to find for my When Are You Reading? Challenge, I wanted to pick this one up. Finding it on sale in a bookstore was icing on the cake.

Cover image via

Cover image via

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Summary from Goodreads:

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?

I had high expectations for this book. I thought it was going to sweep me off my feet. The description sounded amazing. But in reality, I was underwhelmed. I thought the book was a good depiction of life in 1600s Amsterdam and the characters were well-developed, but I felt the book could have been 100 pages shorter and had just as much action. The Miniaturist didn’t play a major role in the book and thinking back on it, didn’t affect the plot at all. I was hoping for more from the title but got nothing.

This was a very character-driven novel. I liked that on some level, but I wish there had been more. Johannes was a very modern man for his time. He was successful yet humble and had found a way to tell his sister and servants about his (no spoilers!) state of being without them reacting negatively. He saw Nella and Marin as very equal to himself instead of ‘dumb women.’ He also saw that Otto was a smart man in a time when blacks were out-of-place in Europe and considered lowly. He was by far my favorite character.

The Meermans made a good foil for the Brandts. They represented more of my idea of people from that era. They were closed-minded, self-centered, and greedy. I think having them in the book helped move the plot, especially when Agnes started second guessing herself at the end. She was more dynamic than I anticipated and I almost liked her in the end. Almost.

Nella was easy to relate to. I think a lot of people have been thrust into a new situation, maybe a new city or new job or new school, and felt completely alone and unable to make new friends. Nella’s situation was stranger than most, but she handled it in a realistic way. She was scared, made some moves that didn’t help the situation, and ultimately came to terms with what was going on and found her way.

Jessie Burton Image via

Jessie Burton
Image via

I liked the trials surrounding Johannes. I’m trying not to give much away, but I think they were very accurate to the time and the way the other citizens of Amsterdam reacted were varied but all understandable. It made me think of some famous figures in a similar situation throughout history (not mentioning names to keep out spoilers) and I thought it was an interesting topic to pick for this book. I wasn’t expecting it based on the title and summary.

I didn’t like the parts about the miniaturist. I thought the character had little to do with the plot. The summary made me think the characters would derive some knowledge about the future from the miniaturist, but that wasn’t the case. The character did nothing but distract Nella from her real problems in life and I didn’t think that was worth naming the book after.


The book pushes a lot of religious and legal issues, which I wasn’t expecting. It talks about the problem with religion influencing laws and why something might be right religiously, but ultimately be more harmful to the community. I liked the point Burton was making, but it seemed more applicable to modern 2015 society than 1680 Netherlands.

Writer’s Takeaway: Historical fiction can be hard. Burton faced problems with the vocabulary that I think she handled well. There were words and concepts that don’t exist anymore so instead of making the language clunky and hard to read, she used a dictionary in the back. It was something I referenced, but the words she used weren’t so frequent that it was frustrating. She used a good mix of modern and time-period ideas to set the mood without annoying the reader.

A good book, but one I found overhyped. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills 1600-1699 in my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton | The Perfectionist Pen
Book Review- The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton | Isabel Costello
Cambridge Book Club- The Miniaturist | Jade the Obscure


2 Responses to “Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (3/5)”

  1. Gemma September 11, 2015 at 4:12 AM #

    Great review! Thanks for linking to mine 🙂 I think we had similar feelings about this book – I felt a bit underwhelmed in the end. What you say about hoping for more from the title is exactly one of the problems I had with the book – the miniaturist didn’t play enough of a part in the plot to warrant the title for me. But I did find the family and characters really interesting to read about.


    • Sam September 11, 2015 at 5:29 AM #

      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad I’m not alone. I think so much more could have been done with the miniaturist. I’m sad to say I don’t recommend the book. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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