My Friday Book: “The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton

imageThose of you who follow my blog, know by now that miniatures is a passion of mine, one which has grown through the years. And when this book first was published, my attention was drawn to it, because of its name. Of course it also had an attractive cover, but beware, because books with beautiful covers, rarely are any good. And this book has had mixed reviews even if it is considered a bestseller. People have talked of flat characters, too long and a strange ending. I did not jump at buying the book as quickly as I thought I would, because of these reviews. And now, when I succumbed to temptation, I wish I had let the book stay in the book shop instead of bringing it home.

In a small Dutch town, Assendelft, Petronella/Nella Oortman looses her father at age 16. Leaving the family more or less destitute, Nella’s, mother sets out to do two things. Find a husband for her daughter, from her husband’s former business associates in Amsterdam, and train her daughter to become a wife. Two years later, a suitor shows up from Amsterdam. 39-year-old, successful, handsome Johannes Brandt, joins the family to hear Nella play the lute. They marry in a short ceremony, without his family and he leaves at once. A month later, Nella arrives alone to the big city, accompanied only by her beloved parrot Peebo, to take up her position as wife of Johannes. But noone is there to greet her at the house, only after a while, the butler Otto/Toot shows up, the maid Cornelia and Johannes nasty sister Marin. Marin has no news of Johannes and Nella, who worried about the wedding night, starts getting anxious to have it over and done with. But her husband, who abandoned her right after the wedding ceremony, has no wish to see her now either. He arrives home in the middle of the night, and sends her packing to her own room. And it is obvious that he is more interested in his sister, than in Nella. Incest? NO!

Two lonely days pass, when everyone in the household ignore Nella. Then an expensive cabinet arrives and happily, Johannes joins the “family”, to inform them that it is a wedding gift for Nella. That the cabinet is a dollhouse and that it will teach her things, educate her. Marin hates the house and the money which has been spent on it. One of Johannes’ dogs, hates it as well. So the house is moved to Nella’s room, but she does not really appreciate the gift. She feels humiliated by it. She would have loved it as a child, but now she feels too old for it and there is noone to show it off too either.

When Marin is out, Nella tries to discover who her sister-in-law is, and realizes from exploring Marin’s room, that she has a very scientific mind, is very clever, but also has a very morbid taste keeping stuffed animals, old snake skins, strange books and other things, in her little “cell” of a room. The rest of the house is not really different, with paintings full of blood and death. Marin, catches Nella in her room, and pinches her really hard as a punishment for snooping. Nella gets a big bruise, but who is there to tattle tell to? Noone. In order to rebel, she goes to fetch her parrot, whom Marin has exiled to the kitchens, and puts him in her room instead. That is when Marin does a bizarre thing.

She enters Nella’s room and gives her a business directory and a pile of “I owe you notes”, which work as money in this world of  Amsterdam 1686. Marin orders her to find a miniaturist, to make things for the dollhouse. If she does not, she will be spitting at Johannes’ generous gift. Out of spite, Nella sits down with the directory and finds one miniaturist. She writes to him and orders three things. 1. A lute, because Marin will not allow her to play on the two lutes downstairs, in the sitting room. They just hang on the wall. 2. A little box of Marzipan, since Marin will not allow any sugar in the house and Nella has grown up in a household full of sweets. 3. An engagement cup, because all couples in the Netherlands drink out of one at their engagement, and she never got to do that either, with Johannes.

Three days later, there is a knock on the door, and a handsome man, introducing himself as John Philips from Bermondsey, England, stands with a package for her. While she stands there talking to him, Johannes sneaks up on her from behind and yells at the young man, wondering what he is doing there. In a cheeky fashion, John answers that he delivers things for a lot of firms in the city. This is when I really got suspicious of the story line. Why was a handsome 39-year-old not married? Why does he react like this at the door? But I kept reading. Nella, explains that the package is from a miniaturist, containing things for the dollhouse. Finally she thinks that her husband might show some interest in her. He is pleased to hear what the package contains but do not want to see the items or go to her room.

In the package she finds a perfect little lute, a perfect little silver box with real marzipan in miniature and with her initials N O on the lid (Nella Oortman) and finally a beautiful little engagement cup, also in silver. But to her dismay, he has also made two identical chairs to the ones standing in the real house’s sitting room, two identical copies of Johannes’ dogs Rezeki and Dhana. And worse of all, a tiny cradle, which highly offends Nella, since this person obviously knows that her marriage has not been consummated and that there is no need for a cradle in the house. She feels scared. And she feels humiliated. So she writes to him that she loves the items she ordered, but that she will not let any human mock her, so she no longer needs his business. This time, she does not sign the letter Nella Oortman, but Petronella Brandt.

One day, she is informed that she must get dressed nicely, because Johannes is going to take her to a party, and introduce her to Amsterdam society. The dresses that Marin has had made for her, are all too big, even though her mother sent the correct measurements. But then Marin always disapproved of her brother’s marriage. That evening, she and Johannes set off for the party in his boat and she wonders if this evening will end in bed with him. She is after eleven days totally ready for it. Wishing for it to happen. When he touches her neck, and says he will have a necklace made for it, she is thrilled. But she does not understand his next comment, when he says that he will never hurt her. He says it several times. Well, I KNOW what that means!

I am on page 89 by now, and just grab about ten pages. Now I want to know if Johannes is homosexual. You see, a couple of years ago, I was told about this amazing author and settled for one of her books set in Florence, in the time of Savonarola. Young girl gets married off to older rich man, he does not want to consummate the marriage, she finds out he is homosexual, he is arrested, tortured, killed. I am not going to read another book like that!

When I get back in to the story, having moved so many pages forward, Nella has gone to see Johannes in his office. She opens the door to his office and there on a bed, lies her naked husband with his male organ all erect. On top of that organ, is John Philips of Bermondsey’s face, busy giving her husband an orgasm! I am sorry about this ghastly description, but what can I say? I moved to the end of the book: Johannes is executed, just months after their marriage, for being a sodomite. John Philips having turned him in. Like all criminals and misfits in Amsterdam, a mill stone is put around him and he is thrown in the water to drown. Now, my husband says, that I should go on and read the book, because I must surely have read the worse already. But have I? This was not the book I thought it would be. And I am sorry, but I am not a politically correct person.

I am religious. I believe in God, I believe he created Adam and Eve in his own image, to multiply and replenish the earth, like all other species do. I am totally and utterly appalled and tired of, every single TV-program, Tv-series, film and book, having to have a homosexual angle. So, this book, which I thought would be an exciting spooky thriller, with strange things happening in the dollhouse, is heading for our paper recycle bin to be taken to the city dump. Sorry, but this is a crap book, because the author is like everyone else, riding on the trend. And once again, I have been taught that books written in the 21st Century are not worth reading.

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