Fictional characters are good people to know. They’re like our friends, share many of our milestones in life – those we meet at school, those in classic novels, the first person we admire and want to be, the person who teaches us about life and those that give us a sense of adventure…
Here we’ve chosen four characters as represented on book covers. Fictional friends and people we admire and want to spend time with for various reasons..
A Childhood friend – Moon Face from Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood series
The stories take place in an enchanted forest in which there is the most magical of trees called the ‘Faraway Tree’.It’s very tall and the top of it disappears into the clouds. Many characters live in the cave like dwellings that are carved into its trunk. When Jo, Bessie and Fanny move into a house nearby and meet Moonface, one of the characters in the novel, I wanted to be his friend and have adventures in the Faraway Tree. He has rounded furniture and a magic slide that goes all the way to the bottom of the tree. How I wanted to go on that slide!
A friend to introduce you to a new world of intrigue -Nella from The Miniaturist – Set in Amsterdam
The Miniaturist was the hit book of 2014 and deservedly so as this novel, set in Amsterdam 1686 had such an amazing premise of a miniaturist who predicted events in the small objects she created, was an immediate draw. Nella is portrayed on the front cover which I just really wanted to climb inside and explore along with the others in the story. But it was Nella and her journey I wanted to go on – despite the difficulties and heartbreak she suffers as it was her spirit and personality I liked and I wanted to befriend her pet Peebo as well if I’m honest. Put Marin in her place as well perhaps. And furnish that exquisite dollshouse! A world to disappear inside – rather like that in the novel itself.
Tough friend you need when in trouble – Vera from Ann Cleeves crime fiction novels set in Northumberland
Vera doesn’t take any prisoners – well she does in her job since she’s a very effective police Detective, but in her coarse comments and witty but gritty asides, you know where you stand.
This is the kind of person I would love to meet for she would be loyal yet honest, brutally so perhaps but you know you can always depend on her and she always gets the job done. She might rub you up the wrong way, like the creases in her raincoat, but you know what you are getting from Vera. No nonsense results and a loyalty that you will never forget.
A friend to go travelling with – Passepartout from Around the World in 80 Days
Passepartout was my inspiration for everything – from booktrailing to learning languages, this guy has been my lifelong travelling companion. As I followed him and his ideas around the world and even studied French to be more like him. What started as a childhood adventure has taken me to so many places and languages via books and for real and for that I can consider him a friend in a million who I would love to meet for real and shake his hand. He represents travel, adventure, the sense of never giving up and solving problems for his friend Phileas Fogg and I would love to go travelling with him.
Rembrandt’s Mirror explores the three women of Rembrandt’s life, and the towering passions of the artist, seen through the eyes of his last, great love, Hendrickje.
Rembrandt was a man of pained passion, obsessive love for his art and a confused and tortured soul. If you want to know the man’s story then you have to look at his paintings for they are his mirror The chapters named after titles of his painting show how he came to paint them and see his story unfold…
Some of the paintings and characters in the novel revealed by his paintings..
The Jewish Bride(c1665–1669), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Also known as Isaak and Rebecca
What a way to see the world through Rembrandt’s eyes, not only the city of Amsterdam and the lives of the women he loved and lost, but also via his world of art and painting. Each chapter reveals a new layer of paint, a new angle of the world that we think we know from Rembrandt’s paintings but in reality there was a lot more hiding underneath each layer and each brushstroke.
Turns out each painting was done to show a part of his life – a snapshot of life before cameras were even invented. Who are the people in his paintings,what is the meaning of certain objects in paintings and who was the man they called Rembrandt?
Kim Devereux paints quite the picture – transports you to a time and place and puts you right at the spyhole in the house so you can see everything going on as if you were there for real.
What a world to witness via paintings and fiction mixed into a single tantalising palette of colour and richness
The story of the man behind some of the most famous paintings in the world from the women who knew him the best.
Story in a nutshell
Rembrandt’s wife is dying and her final days continue to haunt the artist long after her death. Geertje is his housekeeper and ultimately secret keeper for there are many secrets in that house and within the man himself that no-one not even those closest to him can break.
For when Hendrickje, a girl from a strict Calvinist family comes to work there, she sees the sexual relationship develop between Rembrandt and Geertje. Shocked and excited by what she sees, she is drawn to the man herself and soon she will discover if her involvement with him will be her downfall or her salvation.
Place and setting
Rembrandt’s Amsterdam is one of hardship and debt. He sees his first wife Saskia die and then is tormented by his relationship with Geertje. Her story is a hard one and his treatment of her forces her from her home and her life with him. Troubled, she sums up her knowledge of Rembrandt-
…It;s not always easy to make sense of his majesty”
The man himself is veneered in many Amsterdam circles– this man in the shabby tabbard and paint on his clothes –
There was nothing about his appearance or his demenaour that suggested he was a master
But then there is Hendrickje, a girl from the provinces who finds that ‘ the whole of Amsterdam was like Rembrandt’s workshop, with all the workers dedicated to making it run smoothly. And I too was a mere cog in the giant mechanism….”
Geertje on the other hand tries to warn Hendrickje of her master. She is said to be the subject of the painting Woman in a bed currently in the Scottish national gallery
Rembrandt comes to life of the page and you can smell the paint of the workshop, feel it on your hands as you turn the page, the sweat and toil of his work, the pain of his suffering when Saskia passes away and the threat of the plague.
This is also a very visual and sensual novel – you can smell both the canals and the tulips in the city, both revealing their secrets, the earthy perfumes pervading every word,…
The owners would have to keep a watchful eye on their pricey flowers for they were a thief’s favourite (Winter painting)
What kind of life did these women have in Rembrandt’s Amsterdam, his house and ultimately his bed?
Rembrandt has painted his city in all its colours and this is the literary version of that artwork.
Bookish musings – Susan
Oh the writing is like the sweeping brush strokes of an artist who paints with words. When I read that the author is an award-winning short-film director and producer of documentaries, then you can definitely see this in the writing an the cinematic feel of the novel.
Like many people I admit to knowing little of the man himself but by weaving fact and fiction together I could visualise everything about his life and the women he loved. The man behind the mirror – whose painting reflect everything he saw felt and imagined, telling his story via the paintings and showing how he came to paint them and know the people in his life, who them became his subjects– is a very unique way of allowing us to meet the real Rembrandt.
His world is one of debauchery, debt and hard living but also one of art and all that his paintings entail. He teaches whilst feeling tortured at home. I was in Saskia’s shoes, and then Geertje’s and then finally Hendrickje’s and it was like walking through one painting to another and seeing behind them, inside their world, seeing what Rembrandt must have seen.
Fascinating and a remarkable read. So evocative of time and place but also another world. Luckily evoked in paintings around the world and now in this novel.
Fancy a piece of Amsterdam Noir? Daniel Pembrey is your guide to the dark places of the city
Story in a nutshell
Cop Henk van der Pol is an experienced and dedicated police office but with recent changes at work, he’s seriously contemplating retirement. But when a woman’s body is dragged from the harbour, he can’t help but get involved and when he suspects foul play, he wants more than ever to solve the crime.
Trouble is he feels sidelined at work as his bosses seem hell bent on picking cases to work on which will suit and further the city’s political agenda and this one womandoes not fit in with that.
Henk carries on with the case but some evidence seems to be going missing, something is wrong, and is his family safe if he goes too far?
Place and setting
What do you think of when you think of Amsterdam? The canals? Narrow alleyways? The Red Light District?
In Daniel Pembrey’s Amsterdam, the canals reveal floating bodies, the alleyways hide people you really don’t want to meet in real life and as for the Red Light District, this is not the side the tourists see in the windows…..
Henk van de Pol, an ageing cop, loves Amsterdam and its mysterious canals. He even lives on a houseboat as it reminds him of his ancestors who were fisherman and also of the port workers and others who work on the canal side and down by the docks, day in, day out.
The canals are akin to Dutch veins – whose sea faring ways are in their blood-
We Dutch remain at heart a seafaring people: a small but proud collective who once traded with the farthest reaches of the globe…
So, Hank delves into a case which starts in their murky depths and which ends up in a much darker place. The murky world of power and politics await – like the canals, Henk realises that the murky swirls can either bring you down or you can fight the current and swim against the tide..
The world of human trafficking and the plight of the young women who fall prey to greedy and self serving men isbrought out from the shadows. There are many layers explored of this problem which affect every level of society to the highest to the lowest and everything in between.
Welcome to the murky side to Amsterdam
Booktrail review – Susan
A cracking start to the trilogy anda great guide to the city, culture and history of Amsterdam. Maybe not the kind of tour that the tourist centre would have on offer but it evokes and immerses you in every street, where you can smell the waffles in the air and hear the canal water lapping at your feet.
This isa dark Amsterdam with a great hero in Henk Van der Pol. I enjoyed getting to know him – and getting to know him is exactly what I mean, in the way we meet him on his houseboat, in his favourite pub, as if you were there in person.
A very vivid and immersive novel where Amsterdam itself plays a leading role. A great story too which rattles on at a fine pace, with enough thrills and spills to knock you off course. And atthe length of a novella, this is no mean feat.
I’ve read all three now and it is best to start with this one. When there is a line ‘The low flatness of Holland could make a man mad’ near the end though, you just know part two is going to be good.
The return to Amsterdam to meet up again with Inspector Jaap Rykel and the city that has more secrets than canals…
Story in a nutshell
A body is found minus its head. Both hands have been blowtorched.
Enter Inspector Jaap Rykel who is quick to realise that this is nothing like he has ever investigated before. Unusual and overly violent– just who is this man?
A question all the more urgent and personal when Rykel finds photos of himself on the dead man’s phone. Some madman seems to know where he lives and who he is. How did the victim have these messages about him?
The phone rings. It’s the killer with another message….
Place and setting
Amsterdam is once again awash with criminals and strange goings on but to best understand the dynamics of the police force in charge of these crimes, we advise you read the first book in the series After the Silence as it does introduce the playing field, characters and the city of Amsterdam in its leading role.
Inspector Rykel lives on a houseboat on an Amsterdam canal. Something unusual perhaps but then again this is Amsterdam. What is unusual is that this one has appeared in phone messages and pictures on a murder victims phone.
A homeless woman falls to her death in front of a train and it seemsthat she was pushed – What’s more, the man in the grainy CCTV footage appears to be wearing a police jacket.
The Amsterdam police
Struggling with personal and professional relationships the insides of the police station reads like a who’s who of Amsterdam bad guys or bent coppers trying to beat each other to a promotion. This is no ordinary police team and the dynamics can be tricky at first.
The international Court of Human Rights
Rykel used to be in a relationship with Saskia, a lawyer and she is now involved in the prosecution of war criminals at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. One of these names is a well known Bosnian Serb leader by the name ofZamir Isovic. And so when Zamir escapes, more than hell breaks loose. This is a dangerous world they live in.
The rest of Amsterdam – nice….
As well as the gritty side of the city and its outskirts, we are also introduced to its more well known and pleasant locales. Take the Van Gogh museum for example and the many canals noted for their atmospheric walks. And the Anne Frank House is mentioned
But the overriding sense of this city here is one that most tourists don’t see – the drugs scene and not just the dodgy coffee shop culture but the more gritty and raw drugs trade such as the cannabis farm the police find out at Nieue West, an immigrant area west of the city. Or the trade of something else entirely at the glass fronted houses in the city centre’s red light district.
Amsterdam reveals itself in layers here, one dirty, regretful layer at a time. Amsterdam apparently also has the dubious honour of being Western Europe’s murder capital….
Amsterdam and the Netherlands may well already be on your literary map but what better day than King’s Day to celebrate the great literature that sets the scene quite literally of the wonderful sights, sounds and cultural insights of that wonderful country?
This is our literary path –
The Anatomy Lesson
The rich detail in this novel coupled with the historical fact bring 17th century Amsterdam to life – re imagining the life of rembrandt’s first major painting and this makes for a thrilling journey back in time to a significant time in Dutch history!
The life and times of Adrien Adrianenzoon, the cadaver in the painting – Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulpcan and should be seen in The Mauritshuis museum
The compelling story of classic Dutch actor Pierre de Vries and a richly detailed portrait of modern Amsterdam.
This book takes you not only around Amsterdam but around the theatres, then backstage so you can smell the greasepaint and feel the heat of the lights on your face. WE picked out our favourite theatre of them all in Amsterdam which is a definite must see your next time in the city.
What an amazing premise for a book! A miniaturist!! If you have ever seen an antique dolls house in a museum like Petronella’s house in the Rijksmuseum and wondered about the story behind it then this is the book for you! The real dolls house actually exists -look and wonder of the story behind it. And if you ever receive a small parcel through the post ….
And if its the idea of a dolls house in the Rijksmuseum that you’re after, why not try an even darker take on the mysteries of Amsterdam guided by the able and knowledgeable guide of Mr David Hewson –
If it’s location you’re looking for then this book has got it in bucket loads as this is a great read to bring the city of Amsterdam to life – not just the streets but the ambience, the dark corners, the bridges over the fog covered canals..
So many more books set there so if you can’t get there yourself, just pop down to your library or bookshop, dressed in orange of course to celebrate the city’s colour code of celebration and have a literary party Netherlands style…
A character by the name ofPieter Posthumus works to provide identities and backgrounds to unknown corpses found in Amsterdam
Story in a nutshell
The Lonely Funerals team is responsible to make sure all those that die lonely do not die alone
and without an identity of their own do not go on their final journey anonymously. Pieter Posthumus takes his job very seriously and so when a young Moroccan is found dead, case closed, he is keen to find out who this person really was. Was it really suicide as the police are insisting? Or was it something else. Turns out that the Secret Police were also investigating Moroccan nationals about terrorism offenses. Just what is Pieter getting himself into?
Place and setting
Amsterdam may be the city of canals and charming bicycle rides but this is a side of the city that really delves into the underbelly– we visit the red light district, the immigrant areas, the possibility of a terror plot bubbling under the surface and some dark dealings down on the dank canal sides.
Strong currents push down a wide waterway, thrust up a narrower one, circle back along another,sending the young man jerking and threshing through the canals, limbs flailing in a manic underwater dance.
The canals take on a much darker tone when the immigrants body washes up in the Prinsengracht canal for example. As do the coffee shops and residential and industrial parts of the city that on a normal visit to the city you would probably never visit.
The most fascinating discovery is of course the Lonely Funerals team– which the author mentions in a note that it is in fact true. What a poignant and yet very sad fact that someone would die so anonymously in this interconnected world we live in. Fascinating to learn about the people who do this job though.
..the centuries old obligation on the Burgermeester to take responsibility for unclaimed corpses within the city limits. these days, that mostly meant tramps and junkies, lonely old men and women, people rejected by their families, the odd tourist who dropped dead in the street or one of the window-girls with false papers.
How sad that people should die alone and have no one to claim them. No matter who they are and how they came to die.
I found this fascinating that this is a real group of people who work in this way –
The story is dark and some of the issues regarding immigration and the way people die in the city, the sex trade and all that is associated with it are difficult subjects yes, but this was a completely new view and insight into the issues. Terrorism is also a difficult subject to tackle but this provided some of the most visceral and informative parts of the novel. A dark dark world that’s for sure.
But this is the first in a trilogy and it will be interesting to see it develop further…..
Herman Koch takes you to the dark side of Amsterdam –
A summer’s evening in Amsterdam. Two couples meet at a restaurant. They talk about what couples do, but beside the seemingly normal and rather cosy chit chat there is utter anguish at despair at what their teenage sons have done.
Their children, their flesh and bloodhave committed a horrifying act. To make matters worse, they have been caught on camera, grainy CCTV images – despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified – by everyone except their parents.
Asthe parents tuck into their starters, they have to decide what to do. Who really is to blame?
Apart from the setting in a unknown restaurant in Amsterdam, the sense of place is rather that of Dutch society and the role of parents and the portrayal of family life. You won’t like the people in the novel and in fact as I did, you will probably utterly despise them –Paul in particular who as the main narrator has a lot to say for himself about politicians, the state of the world etc etc but whether you can or should believe him is another matter entirely.
The structure of the novel – the serving of each course and the tasting of the various flavours suited this plot perfectly – the pretentiousness of the restaurantstaff and the snobbery apparent is pitch perfect
The characters may be hateful yet a good story doesn’t necessarily have to have likable ones to be interesting – and these certainly are multilayered and very complex characters. Paul Lohman is also very dark and as for his brother Serge? Brrrr
Dark secrets inbourgeois families are definitely on the menu -and that’s just for starters – for the main course there is thepreoccupation with appearances,and for desert – hiding the skeletons hidden in the closet.
This is one of those books that I’m unsure of the ending and think that this was meant to be the case. Interpretation is a good thing when reading a book and when sat in one location, in the midst of a snobby restaurant and waiting for each dish to be served up, the service, the atmosphere and the comments around the table were fascinating. Weird but fascinating.
The booktrailer is meeting with the author of The Miniaturist today – Jessie Burton no less. To say that I’m excited is an understatement particularly since the invitation came in a rather unusual way…
I was sitting, reading, in Booktrail towers when I hear a thud on the carpet just inside the door. Not this is not so unusual since the postman has been known to post bookmail through. But when I went to see what book present I had received, I notice that it is lighter than most and is wrapped in smooth brown paper. Puzzled I look closer and see that there is a brown piece of string tied around it AND A PICTURE OF THE SUN ON IT. I gasp and out of shock almost drop the parcel in both excitement and as if it has suddenly grown very hot.
There is a sentence written around the sun in black letters – EVERY AUTHOR NEEDS TEA AND CAKE. I smile then for I know now what I will find in the parcel. It is still with trembling fingers how ever that I manage to untie the parcel full of expectation. And from the tissue paper inside, I take out several objects – a miniature Jessie Burton, a miniature booktrailer, some miniature cakes and two miniature cups of tea. There is another treasure in the parcel, tucked in a separate piece of paper and wrapped in a bubble wrap of sorts. This must be something more delicate than most I tell myself.
And it is, for when I open it, it is the smallest, most perfect vase of yellow tulips that I ever did see. On the back of the vase are the numbers 25.6.14 at 4pm. And then I know what I must do and for what I must prepare. These objects will be the architect of our very good fortune….
So , I set about recreating the scene that the author for the Miniaturist has set for me – I hope I have served her well….
So, you can imagine my excitement and nervousness when she arrives! I know I have written quite a few booktrail posts on this book but it has inspired me and captured my imagination in such a way that I could not resist to write about it and spread the word. And now The Miniaturist is here herself. Aaaaah.
Hi Jessie, do come in..the scene is all set out as you wish…
She smiles and after taking off her coat, sits down and says how lovely it all looks and that I have recreated the scene well. I have the eye of a Miniaturist she says. I blush and remember my days spent making miniature monks out of plasticine (I have no idea why I used to do this when I was young, they were just easy to make and I had a lot of brown clay hehe) but I won’t tell her that, it would kill the mood.
Hi Jessie, pick a cake , pink or purple…she takes the pink one and I start with the chat….
This must be one of the most magical blurbs on a book that I have ever read. What was it about that dollhouse in the Rijksmuseum that inspired you so much? and about the art of the Miniaturist?
It inspired me for several reasons. Firstly, it’s a very beautiful decorative object, that has to be seen to be believed. Secondly, the fact it was an exact replica of a real house filled with pieces from around the world, was so fascinating. To me it was a reflection of the society its owner lived in, and posed interesting questions about her motive behind commissioning it in the first place. The miniatures inside it are works of art!
Miniaturists were real artists. Which object in your house or life would you like a miniature of to treasure?
Good question! Mmm. I’d like a miniature of my cat because then at least I’d be able to control her and know where she actually is half the time…
What kind of research did you do in Amsterdam? What are your connections to the city?
I had no connections before I went on holiday there in 2009. I read social history and recipe books. I studied maps and paintings, and I traced the physical city with my footsteps to get a sense of it. (I love that last bit – she is a real life miniaturist booktrailer!!!)
Petronella Oortman is a real person so what were you careful to include in her story and what message did you want her to tell?
To be honest, I have altered the real Petronella’s autobiography. I have made her much younger than her husband for reasons of plot. I have also put her and her husband in a more expensive house, also for novelistic needs! I wanted Nella, as I think of her, to be the eyes and ears of the story. She comes to the city as an innocent, but full of spark and spirit that leads her on. She thinks she knows what is what. She doesn’t. That’s helpful as the writer, because you can insert ambiguity. She has to learn a lot of lessons about love and friendship, about betrayal and compromise.
Marin is another fascinating character. Was she based on anyone that you researched?
Not at all. She is a figment of my imagination. I did see one quite severe painting of a woman that reminded me of her, but actually Marin is softer in my mind than Nella takes her for.
The Golden Age in Amsterdam is a fascinating period of history. What interesting fact did you learn that you may not have included into the book?
Mmm. I think I crammed all the interesting things in that I could! I’m sure I must have jotted a few strange facts down that slipped through the net.
Hopefully people will find them for themselves.
I read that an actual version of the house and figures was made before being photographed for the cover? Have you been allowed to keep it?
This is true! A real Miniaturist made the front cover, which is quite extraordinary. I hope I get to keep it but that would be a long way off. We want as many people as possible to see it first.
I believe your next book is set in Spain this time. Can you tell us anything about it?
Well, it’s still in the impressionistic phase. Spain in 1937, London in 1967. A disgraced painter, a rebellious girl, one act of betrayal echoing on through time. Two women and a young man trying to find a foothold in a turbulent life.
Ooh perfect for another booktrail!
Thank you so much for stopping by today Jessie. What’s that you say? A gift? For me? I open the parcel she hands me slightly nervous that it will be another set of miniatures and wondering what challenge Jessie has set me this time…. but well it was a challenge but a different kind than what I had expected….
Reader, I have to wear these out, in public. So when you see me, I will be the wobbly one that cannot walk upright. I’m off to practice now…Here Jessie you take these cup cakes back with you. (I got two extra hehe) Here take them quick, I might drop the, not too steady on my feet.
And with that The Miniaturist lady gives me a hug ( or at least tries but I am suddenly seven foot tall in these things) and she is off