Last week I met up with the Cambridge Book Club for the first time. The book up for discussion this month was Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, which, if you live anywhere other than under a stone, you will no doubt be familiar with. But for those of you who have avoided looking at the best-seller lists for the past few months, here’s a quick summary:
The Miniaturist tells the story of 18-year-old Petronella “Nella” Ooortman, who travels from her humble family home, to a house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam, owned by wealthy Dutch merchant, and Nella’s new husband, Johannes Brandt.
As she steps beyond the threshold of the Brandt household, Nella is welcomed not by the warm embrace of her new love, but the cold words of Johannes’ sister, Marin, and the immature giggles of the household staff. She finds herself, not the mistress of a grand abode, but a stranger in a foreign land. Her feelings of isolation are further compounded, by her illusive husbands wedding gift to her, a cabinet-sized replica of her new home.
The Brandt household is not all it seems, however, and Nella soon find her new home life begins unravelling around her. She soon realises the steps she must take to save the family from ruin. Expect to uncover hidden loves, seething scandals, and a mysterious miniaturist who predicts her customers’ future. Travel back to Amsterdam in this unflinching tale of a family’s journey towards freedom in a repressive and judgemental society.
On the whole I really enjoyed the book, I found the storyline intriguing, and once I had started I struggled to put the book down. I don’t think it’s a life changing piece of literature, it’s a best-seller, and as such is quite widely appealing and very readable.
Here are some of the main themes and questions that emerged in our discussion:
– The miniaturist’s identity: Could more have been done with this character? Did Burton give enough of an explanation?
– The fate of the characters: How would the household have survived after the novel had ended?
– The ‘twist’: Was it good enough? Did Burton take a too obvious route?
– Burton’s treatment of Marin, Johannes’ stern, feminist sister: Why did Burton choose to take this route with Marin? Did she remain true to her identity?
– The relationship between Cornelia and Otto: Was there more to this than first met the eye?
– Corruption, and the criminal underworld of Amsterdam: Do you think Burton delved far enough into this area? Was just peeking beneath the surface sufficient?