The Miniaturist – Amsterdam 1686

Welcome to the booktrail of The Miniaturist

The-Miniaturist

Welcome to Amsterdam 1686

Dam Square and the City Hall before the fire
Dam Square and the City Hall before the fire

Setting – 

Amsterdam, in 1686, during the period known as the Golden age. A time where the city prospered and was incredibly wealthy because of its trading capabilities, yet was significantly poorer in terms of gender equality and women’s rights.

The story in a nutshell

Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist....
Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist….

In 1686, 18 year old Petronella Oortman comes to live in Amsterdam with her new husband, Johannes Brandt. However theirs was an arranged marriage in order to salvage the finances of the Oortman family. Nella is understandably afraid  – she has barely met Johannes and knows little about his life and family.

She arrives at the door –  a stranger in a new world, a man’s world, alone and uncertain of what lies ahead…

On the step of her new husband’s house, Nella Oortman lifts and drops the dolphin knocker embarrassed by the thud.

Her new home is cold and unwelcoming and her husband is not even there at first since he travels a lot for his work. As she tries to settle in and take in her surroundings, Johannes returns and gives his bride, a wedding gift of  a cabinet, a kind of doll house that closely mirrors  the Brandt home. Nella engages the services of a miniaturist, to make furniture and fittings. What she receives is far more than she expected, as the pieces reflect a bit too closely persons and events in the family’s life, some frighteningly so.

The Old Church,  where the novel opens. Image courtesy of Jessie Burton
The Old Church, where the novel opens. Image courtesy of Jessie Burton

The novel opens in the Old Church – a mysterious woman is secretly observing a funeral  -who is she and who is the funeral for? Two of the many mysteries which entice you to read further…

The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends. But words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot and the church’s east corner is crowded.

As we are left wondering who these people are and why they are here, we are taken over to the Herengracht canal where a certain young girl is making her way to her new home, having only met her husband at her wedding, months earlier….

Nella’s new home – 

The Herengracht today - image courtesy of Jessie Burton
The Herengracht today – image courtesy of Jessie Burton

This part of the Herengracht is known as the Golden Bend, but today the wide stretch is brown and workaday. Looming above the sludge-coloured canal, the houses are a phenomenon. Admiring their own symmetry on the water, they are stately an beautiful, jewels set within the city’s pride. Above their rooftops, Nature is doing her best to keep up, and clouds in colours of saffron and apricot echo the glorious republic.

Nella walks into the house, nervous and alone. Her one true friend is her parakeet Peebo – 

Peebo!! Image courtesy of Jessie Burton
Peebo!! Image courtesy of Jessie Burton

Peebo her parakeet, thrills the tips of his feathers against the cage bars, his faint cheep falling short onto the marble. Even the now-quiet canal behind them seems to hold its breath.

Nella is a fascinating character – a woman who struggles to adapt to the social mores and expectations as the lady of the house. Her new husband Johannes twenty years older, while seemingly very kind, is emotionally and physically distant. She is thrown together with her husband’s cold sister Marin, Johanne’s help Otto and her maid Cornelia. Otto is the first black man she has ever seen and she sees the ugliness of the city raise its head by how he is generally treated.

Nella feels as trapped as Peebo is in a cage of her own – a gilded cage at that since she is given wealth and a new status in society but one very much controlled by her role in life and the men around her. Women of the time had little, if any, independence and were dictated to by men leaving them with no power of their own.

Marriage, paradoxically, was seen by some as the only way for women to secure any influence over their own lives. But this marriage is to give Nella more challenges that it gives her influence.

For Nella receives a gift and meets a miniaturist who can seemingly predict (or is it influence?) her life and that of those around her.

Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist....
Nella waits for the biggest adventure of her life. She is about to meet The Miniaturist….

Join us tomorrow as Nella enters the world of the Miniaturist….

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