Set in 1682, The Miniaturist tells the story of Petronella (Nella) Oortman, an 18 year old from the country who after a hastily organised arranged marriage moves to her new husband, Johannes' imposing home in Amsterdam. She quickly discovers it's not just the house that is imposing, Johannes' unmarried sister, Marin is a cold and formidable presence. Meanwhile Johannes himself is barely present and Nella is thrust into a life of little purpose - despite her marriage, it is Marin who is undoubtedly woman of the house - and wedded to a virtual stranger. When Johannes brings home a wedding present for Nella, a cabinet sized replica of their house, she finds a miniaturist who makes perfectly scaled down models and vows to become mistress of this house if she can't be mistress of her actual home.
Things take a strange and potentially chilling turn though when she begins to receive gifts from the miniaturist that reflect or even foretell actual events within the household. And this is a household teeming with secrets and lies. In an Amsterdam where society's morals are controlled by an unforgiving church, these secrets threaten to tear all their lives apart.
This is a beautifully written, vivid and absorbing book with a plot that captures perfectly the attitudes and politics of the time, particularly the oppressive lives women were forced to endure. If I have one small complaint it's that I felt I would have liked to have learned more about the miniaturist. In some ways and hopefully without giving too much away I was left feeling there was more to come and I wondered if there will ever be a sequel that uncovers more secrets about the mysterious miniaturist. That's probably just wishful thinking on my part however, and shouldn't take anything away from this assured and compelling debut novel.
Thank you to the author and publishers for my copy received through NetGalley in return for my unbiased review.
The Miniaturist is published in the UK by Picador.