Author: Jessie Burton, 2014.
Genre: Historical Fiction. 17th Century Holland. Relationship Drama. Magical Realism.
Other Details: ebook. 427 pages.
On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . . Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall? - - synopsis from UK publisher;s website.
I found myself conflicted about this novel. Certainly it was well written and the story took some interesting turns that I did not see coming. The late 17th Century setting was also well realised. However, I did feel that the characters were rather flat and somewhat hard to relate to. Also, I did not feel the author was really committed to the magical realism aspect of the story and as a result it tailed off in a rather unsatisfying way.
Still my biggest issue came after I finished the novel and discovered in the acknowledgements a note from the author that Petronella Oortman Brandt and her doll house did exist but that the author had elected to ignore details of her actual life. She wrote "my Nella’s biography is a completely fictional creation." She repeated this fact in various interviews I found on-line. This perplexed me. Why use a named historical person if you intend to completely fictionalise their life? It continued to bothers me as this is more than the kind of dramatic licence used by authors such as Susanna Gregory. I would have been much happier if the author had created a fictional person and just acknowledged that the doll house of Petronella Oortman Brandt had inspired her story. Also, I would have appreciated this statement being placed at the start of the novel than in the final thank you to various people.
Having said all this the novel was well received by our reading group. I did raise my reservation about making so many changes to the life of a historical figure. It really did not bother the others apart from one member, She agreed with me and said that it would have been a deal breaker for her if she'd known that Jessie Burton had done this in advance. This led to a discussion about the parameters of historical fiction.