So, here we go, the first ever Rock My Style book club meeting! As announced back in January, our first book is The Miniaturist, the best-selling debut novel by Jessie Burton and winner of all sorts of awards including the Waterstones book of the Year 2014.
For those of you who haven’t read it yet, The Miniaturist is a literary thriller set in 17th century Amsterdam and tells the story of teenage bride Nella who, upon arriving at her new home, is greeted by her new husband’s frosty sister. Her new husband, Johannes, is nowhere to be seen. When he does finally turn up, he’s distant and continually avoids consummating their marriage. It’s not exactly the new life that Nella was hoping for. As a wedding gift Johannes gives Nella a doll’s house, which is an exact replica of their home and, shortly afterwards, their lives begin to unravel and events spin increasingly out of control.
Charlotte and I have both read it and, despite us having similar taste in many things (blouses, Chanel nail polish, Parisian girl style, Paris in general and wearing shorts all year round being just a few things we’re passionate about in equal measure) our thoughts on the book differed wildly. But that’s ok, life, and book clubs, would be boring if we all felt the same way about everything. Oh and for those of you – like Lauren – who are still reading, we’ll avoid spoilers in the post, but I can’t guarantee there won’t be plot giveaways in the comments. Read at your own risk.
So, on to the book. I tore through it in less than a week, staying up way longer than I should have done, more than once, to read just one more chapter (surely the book reader’s equivalent of and precursor to boxset binge watching). That’s how wrapped up I was in this gorgeously written, utterly gripping tale.
It took me a couple of chapters to warm to our heroine but, once I did, I was totally Team Nella as she navigated her way through her strange new life and did her utmost to deal with the increasingly sinister events that threaten to derail the family that she has found herself a part of. I didn’t really warm to the other characters, apart from maybe Otto and, once or twice, Cornelia, but I don’t think we were supposed to, they hid their true selves from Nella and, in turn, us too.
Nella’s dawning realisation that all is not what it seems within her marriage and the wider household, her fascination with the creepy doll’s house and the mysterious miniaturist and her growing strength in the face of impending doom all had me hooked. One review of the book I read griped that a young woman living in 17th century Amsterdam wouldn’t have been able to wander around the city as freely as Nella does. In response to that I would say that doll’s houses don’t usually mirror (foretell? comment upon? control?) the events of the house they’re based on. It’s a work of fiction not historical fact, and I’m ok with Nella behaving in ways that perhaps aren’t strictly speaking historically accurate.
The language throughout the book is beautiful, but not so dense that you get stuck in it, having to reread a particular paragraph several times, as sometimes happens to me when I read books of a more literary bent. I assume that Jessie Burton’s working on her second novel. All I can say is: “Write faster Jessie!” I’m looking forward to reading whatever you come up with next.
I’ll start by saying I am unsure if I even qualify as a Book “reviewer”, I used to be a voracious reader, nowadays it is an absolute luxury to be able to pick up a book as the little “spare” time I have is usually dedicated to my family and friends. Therefore I have to be really really engaged in a story within the first chapter or two, I haven’t got time to waste on something that could turn out to be mediocre. Harsh but true.
I am still unsure whether I would have continued to read The Miniaturist had I not committed to do so for this very book club. And the fact that my Mum went to the trouble of buying me such a beautifully presented hard back version.
I found the setting interesting, I have absolutely no knowledge of 17th century Amsterdam and Jessie Burton has clearly carried out a considerable amount of research. As the plot progressed I grew to like Nella Oortman considerably more that I did at the start, where I was frankly, non-plussed. How realistic her particular “coming of age” experience was in that era I’m unsure, many aspects simply didn’t fit for me personally. However, you can’t help but root for a heroine with a healthy dose of feisty and a ruthless desire to succeed.
I guessed both of the main plot lines early on, and I would rather I hadn’t, there were no surprises – and what with the sinister goings on surrounding her peculiar wedding gift I felt that there should have been. There is no denying the author writes for the most part, beautifully, I just found that actually, some of the descriptions surrounding locations and scenes were too in depth, too deliberate if you will. Yet information was severely lacking when it came to what anyone was actually feeling or thinking.
I didn’t feel that you really got to know Marin, Johannes, Otto or Cornelia at all, perhaps you were not supposed to. But I find it hard to care what the final outcome is if I feel I am merely aquatinted rather than completely immersed in the emotions of the characters. I found the book cold, the environment hostile. It just wasn’t for me.
Now it’s your turn! What did you think of The Miniaturist? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
There were so many great suggestions for the next book club read, it was hard to choose, but we’ve decided on Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey, as suggested by Lynn. You can buy it here We’ll get together to discuss it the first week in March. As well as leaving your thoughts on The Miniaturist, do include your suggestions for our March book!