Set in 1686, in the god-fearing yet gold-centric city of Amsterdam, The Miniaturist features a beautiful background, but very little enjoyment in the way of plot. The main character, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman, newly married to a prosperous merchant, irritated the hell out of me, and the author seemed so intent on hiding and revealing secrets that not much else happened.
“Amsterdam: Where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder.”
Nella has arrived in Amsterdam to make a home with her new husband, whom she barely knows. Unfortunately, she continues not knowing him, as he spends all his time away, and she spends all her time with his unpleasant sister, their gossipy maid and an African butler who sticks out wildly in their town. As a wedding gift, her husband presents her with a miniature version of her house. Looking to fill the house (and her time), she contacts a miniaturist to build some pieces. The miniaturist, whom she never meets, instead sends her strange pieces that seem to display a knowledge of the future and their home.
The mysteriousness of the people in Amsterdam — Nella’s new neighbors and family — starts out interesting but quickly reaches outrageous levels. Everyone has some massive secret — pregnancies, homosexual affairs, jilted lovers, etc. — and after a while, it’s impossible to maintain any level of belief. And Nella made for an awful protagonist — she’s wildly inconsistent in her thoughts and actions. I did love the background of 17th century Amsterdam — the religion, the merchants, the courts. That part was fascinating, and almost made up for the ridiculous plot.