If someone made a little figure of you and then threw it out of the window, would you feel its pain? This is just one of the ideas Jessie Burton explores in The Minaturist, her best-selling novel that was also made in a TV adaptation.
This is my second Burton novel and I will be reading The Muse as well. I hesitate to compare authors as I don’t want to reduce their hard work to someone else style but it is also useful for other people to understand why they should read a certain book. So I would compare Burton’s style to Atwood’s. She had an incredibly witty tone but explores fundamental problems within society. This book has also been compared to Girl with a Pearl Earring which I agree with, but I also think it is better!
Set in the Netherlands in the latter half of the seventeenth century, it follows the narrator Petronella (a wonderful name) who has just married her much older husband. He is not there to greet her, and they barely share a hug during their time together. In the house also lives her husband’s sister, and two servants. One of whom was an orphan and the other an African — a very rare occurrence during the time.
As a wedding gift and to keep her busy, he gifts Nella a dollhouse and tells her to fill it to her desire. She finds in a brochure the address of a Minaturist and requests some items to be made. They are sent along with something extra. Nella didn’t order them, she doesn’t know the Minaturist knew, but she sends her objects. Eventually, the dollhouse becomes a replica of the house.
The novel follows Nella trying to figure out why the Minaturist is sending these items and what it means — and who is the Minaturist? But there is also so much more. So many shocks and turns that you don’t expect. It can be hard to write a novel in the seventeenth century with such strict societal rules but Burton carefully discusses issues of race, homosexuality and women’s rights. They are not overdone so that they do not fit into the context, but the inherent wrongness of certain actions stands strong against the context.
Burton’s knowledge of the Netherlands was precise, as historical fiction should be. It introduces you to their slave trade and the attitudes of the time. The strict Christian punishments and harsh winters. It is truly fascinating.
For those who have not read any Jessie Burton before I truly recommend it, you won’t be disappointed. Each page is gripping and meaningful. And she knows how to punch you in the heart — multiple times.