This book has been well and truly hyped up. It seems to be everywhere since its publication. Hitting the bestselling list, week after week. Winning and being nominated for bits and bobs here and there. Translated into different languages across the globe it was sure to be an astonishing book.
Perhaps though, after having read so many wonderful and sometimes cryptic reviews I had my expectations a little too high, and this debut novel from Jessie Burton just couldn’t live up to it. That however, is categorically my fault and, although I was definitely swept away and found myself caught up in the Nella Oortman’s story I was left uninspired at the end. In fact, although Burton has this wonderful way of building suspense and creating hauntingly exquisite atmospheres I just wished I’d not read it to the end. Instead I would have settled for one chapter before it. But hey hindsight is a great thing.
Set in 17th century Amsterdam, 18-year-old Nella Oortman arrives to meet her new husband and begin a life as the wife of the wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. As Nella’s wedding life begins with her husband basically avoiding her at every possible moment, she starts to wonder if this is all life has to offer. But, as her husband produces a wedding gift of a cabinet-sized doll’s house that is identical to the house they live in, Nella begins to learn secrets about her husband, her sister-in-law and herself. Employing a mysterious woman to create pieces for her little house, Nella’s life soon turns into a circus of chaos and harsh realities that this miniaturist seems to know before she does.
In some respects this book is absolutely fantastic, like I’ve mentioned before, Burton has a real gift for descriptions and creating suspense which, kept pages turning almost frantically trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It is haunting in so much that, you really can’t figure out what will be on the next page. And whilst this was great you do start to wonder, if everything this family has had happen to them could really happen to one family. It almost seems too much, too overwhelming, the different sorts of plot twists Burton undertakes; race, sex and feminism to name but a few and the clarity of which she often leaves these twists leave you no closer to understanding anything about them.
Her writing is so stunning, but the clarity of the book to me, was just not there. I got confused so easily, perhaps though that’s how my brain is, but I just couldn’t sort all the information I needed. Whilst Burton literally leaves you on the edge of your seat the ending is pretty dull. All of sudden everything has become clear, but in a none clear way. Confused? Me too. Everything you thought you knew you don’t. Long conversations that Nella is remembering, you don’t even realised happened because they aren’t in the book as far as I’m aware. Love, that you didn’t even know about is suddenly out in the open. And the escalation of the consequences of one character’s actions is almost dismissed. At least, that’s how I read it.
Still, there is something about this book, and about the way Burton tries, quite confidently I would say to hold her own. She does have a way with words, she has researched Amsterdam and also the actual Petronella Oortman doll’s house that inspired her novel, and she can write. I just can’t make myself like this book, but having said that I literally can’t wait for her next one.
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