Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

When Nella arrives in the Amsterdam of 1686, it is as a new wife.  Johannes Brandt, her new husband, is a wealthy merchant in town and Nella is eager to make a place for herself in her new household.  Not only must she learn to find her way among the streets and canals of this new city, she also must interact with the servants, and try to understand the ways of her forceful and patronizing sister in law Marin. When Johannes gives her a large wooden dollhouse as a wedding gift, Nella is at once both underwhelmed and incredulous.  Lonely and unoccupied, she soon decides to begin furnishing the house with the help of The Miniaturist, a choice with consequences both intimate and far-reaching.  In a city where there is hatred and bigotry under the sheen of gold and riches, Nella will have to navigate both the rigors of trade and society as well as the intricate dance of her own marriage.

I really wanted to like this.  It got such great reviews, I was anxious to listen but I found myself not being particularly ever excited to put it on.  The reader is wonderful for all voices EXCEPT the protagonist, whom while she is young, isn't a child and her voice for Nella felt far too childish.   As for the text itself, it was slow going.  I love little miniature things, always have, and the plot line with the miniaturist felt like it stuttered and stopped in a bizarre way and, truthfully, never really made a lot of sense.  The story is solid historical fiction except when it came to the miniaturist and it never really stamped itself out as magical realism - just "oh, that's so strange" and then moved on.  It was a real disconnect for me that never resolved.

As for the rest, it was entertaining enough.  There are a few disturbing scenes, one graphic sexual one that caught me completely off-guard while I was driving.  I liked Nella and Johannas' relationship, how it grew and matured in a way I didn't expect.  I liked watching Nella get to know her world (sometimes her naivet√© grated on me) and the plot with Marin was intriguing also.  Just overall, it felt like a bit of a let-down.

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