This book had all the ingredients to be very interesting, and it almost got there: almost. Unfortunately, after sludging through a pretty slow first-half which didn’t engage me very much, it drew me back in with some interesting twists, only to then fizzle out again. The whole thing just left me feeling cold, a large part of which I think had to do with how impenetrable I found the protagonist, Nella: I felt like she was being kept at an arms length and just couldn’t crack her.
The Miniaturist follows a young woman in 17th century Amsterdam named Petronella (or Nella): she has moved from the countryside to live with her new husband Johannes, his sister Marin, and their two house workers. Nella’s marriage was essentially arranged by her mother and Johannes’ family, and as Nella comes to live with them she finds herself living quite a lonely existence as Marin and Johannes’ main priority is the family’s mercantile business. This is, however, until Nella employs the work of a miniaturist to fill her new gift of a small house, only to find that the mysterious worker seems to know all about Nella’s household and its secrets before she is even aware of them. Along with their business issues, other dramas and juicy secrets in a very strict time threaten to come to the surface and create vast change in the lives of this family.
The setting of this novel and how the strict religious observance and laws impacted the lives of the characters is set up with a lot of potential, but I feel like it always ends up just falling short. Furthermore, the drama and secrets, while twists, do seem a little spot-on and exactly what you’d expect from a story like this set in a time like this. I was beginning to be drawn in by the different story threads being woven, but ultimately found some of them being wrapped up or forgotten in a hasty manner.
There was so much to explore and while the bones of an engaging story are there, I never felt much for any of the characters and the conclusion didn’t stir me all that much either. Was there ever an actual explanation for some of the more fantastical-seeming things that occurred? Did I really believe some of the characters motivations and relationships as they were revealed? Honestly, it’s a big shrug. I guess I would say The Miniaturist just left me feeling kind of ambivalent: it almost grabbed me at some points but never got to me in the end.