Would you look at that cover! Who would not want to explore further such an exquisite house, a cabinet sized replica of the beautiful home once lived in by a wealthy Dutch family in the the late seventeenth century. In the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam the cabinet house of Petronella Oortman is on display. Petronella was the wife of a wealthy merchant and did what lots of wealthy wives did - had a replica made of her home, made with marble, tortiseshell, art works by artists of the day and so on. Exquisite, extravagant and expensive do not even begin to adequately describe such works of art. The author has based her totally fictional historical novel on this lady and her cabinet house. But as there is no further information about the lady and her life, the story created by the author is totally fictional.
When it was published earlier this year, this novel was highly anticipated, and Ms Burton was touted to be the new Sarah Waters or Donna Tartt. Bit off the mark on that one I am afraid. It starts off promisingly however - 18 year old Petronella (Nella), daughter of an impoverished but well connected widow, arrives in Amsterdam from a country town, married in haste to an older man, the very successful and widely courted merchant trader Johannes Brandt. In the tradition of Rebecca and Jane Eyre, the man of the story is absent much of the time, leaving the poor young naive heroine in the clutches of a number of other residents of the house. In this case Johannes' sister Marin who is the other main character in the story, and the two house servants - Otto who happens to be African, and Cornelia. Naturally there is much mystery surrounding each of these characters.
The absent husband, with his own mysterious background and dodgy deals, arranges for the house replica to be delivered to Nella as a wedding gift. It immediately fascinates her and in her lonliness and isolation slowly takes over her life. She very intrepidly locates a miniaturist - a craftsman - to furnish and decorate the house for her, and fill it with people. For me, at this point, it really started to get just a little bit fanciful. And also quite complicated in its plot. From the title I thought the book was going to be about the miniaturist and the relationship between that person and Nella. But it moved away completely from this idea, with Nella becoming an observer/spectator to what was going on around her of which there was plenty. And I can't say anymore as it will give too much away!
Overall this was not a satisfactory read. The author is definitely passionate about her subject, and has done considerable research, but there was almost too much going on, too many characters with complicated stories and objectives. I didn't get confused, I just got bored. On her website the author says her book 'focuses on two women’s very different journeys to find a slice of freedom in a repressive, judgmental society.' And it does, but it just does not seem to hang together very well to achieve that aim.