by Jessie Burton
The Miniaturist started your story, but now you must be the one to finish it.
I’m not sure whether I want to say this a 3.5 or 3.75 or just full-blown 4-star read.
You see, I enjoyed this book. I was invested in the characters, I eagerly followed their journey and uncovered their secrets, and I even got antsy as we neared the novel’s end because, well, I wanted to know how it was going to end. Hell, I even re-listened to the first chapter and marvelled at how great it was in context of having read the entire novel.
But at the same time…this book was…pretty predictable.
The Miniaturist is a historical fiction novel with a few elements of magical realism that, admittedly, don’t really go anywhere — don’t mistake me: I’m not saying that as a criticism. I’ve always found magical realism as something fluid and the fact that the magical realism elements add to the atmosphere of the story moreso than the ultimate plot. I liked that — I liked that The Miniaturist herself is never fully explained, that the way she interacts with the protagonist and other characters is mysterious, seemingly magical, and unsettling.
But that ultimate plot? It’s really easy to figure out where it’s going. While I don’t think The Miniaturist depends upon the “twists” — yes, in air-quotes — that crop up within the narrative, it certainly does draw them out as if they are things that are meant to surprise us. I found this incredibly frustrating as I feel the narrative telegraphed these “twists” well-enough that they were easy to discern. All one had to be doing was paying attention while they read, and I was listening which, in theory, probably should have made it more difficult for me to pick up on all of these little threads and what was likely happening.
I can’t even think of most of the other, smaller “twists” because, again, I didn’t consider them particularly shocking.
But what did shock me is how much I wasn’t bothered by the fact I was easily telegraphing the direction of the plot to myself long before it was all given to me explicitly by the author. I was wrapped up in the atmosphere of 1680’s Amsterdam and the the secrets kept within the Brandt household — yes, they were secrets that were easy to discern, but it made the relationships between all the characters all the more intriguing. I was sucked in to watching how these characters — these delightfully flawed human beings — would hurt and help and aid and injure each other on various emotional levels, whether or not they always meant to. That is to say: watching a family and all its dysfunctionalities (I know it’s not a word, but I’m using it) was, by far, one of the best aspects of the novel.
That and the characters themselves: I really cared these characters. These beautifully flawed, tragically human characters were such a joy to follow, and I didn’t realise how much I liked them until the novel was nearly over and I caredabout what was happening. I cared whenever they were hurt or in a tough situation — all of the sudden I felt these strange little mini-spasms in my chest, these pangs of pity and sympathy.
So despite a plot that was terribly easy to figure out, which sometimes made me antsy while waiting for the protagonist to discover it, I still liked this book. I didn’t love it, but I definitely liked it, and I look forward to reading more from Jessie Burton in the future.
Also going back and re-listening to the first chapter with the context of the entire novel is something I can’t recommend more highly: it should just be mandatory for reading this book.