Book of the Week #2: The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

What a great week for debuts–I really couldn’t pick between this and The Story of Land and Sea for “Book of the Week.”

Booksellers are well familiar with this one. It was a BEA buzz book and ended up both an Indie Next and LibraryReads pick, as well as a Book of the Month at several Indie bookstores. Reviews are already scheduled for the NYTBR, Entertainment Weekly and the San Francisco Chronicle.

So why the buzz? As New York magazine said, “This debut novel, set in 17th-century Amsterdam, hits all the marks of crossover success: taut suspense, a plucky heroine–and a possibly clairvoyant miniature-furniture designer.” It’s the story of a young woman who marries an elusive merchant and an elaborate dollhouse she receives that mirrors her new home. Things get wiggy and creepy when the mysterious “miniaturist” behind the dollhouse seems to be predicting happenings in the actual house. It’s a nice recipe: Real history mixed with real weirdness and some good dramatic energy.

Here’s the actual dollhouse that inspired the story:

Miniaturist

“It’s a pleasure to discover an author who wields language in striking ways, and Burton’s setting and story line are equally singular. In her enticing debut, set in 1680s Amsterdam, she counterbalances her mischievous premise with stark commentary on greed, hypocrisy, and prejudice. … The interactions between these strong characters and their spirited maid, Cornelia, make this refreshingly different historical novel a standout portrayal of the wide range of women’s ingenuity.”
— Booklist

Nella arrives alone in Amsterdam, readying herself for her unknown husband’s demands. Instead, she finds herself sleeping by herself, ignored by Johannes and dismissed by his brusque sister, Marin, who rules the house and influences the business, too. Distracted by the wedding present, Nella commissions a miniaturist to supply tiny items of furniture; but these exquisite objects and their accompanying messages soon begin to bear a chilly, even prophetic relationship to people and things—suggesting their maker knows more about the family and its business than is possible or safe. In a debut that evokes Old Master interiors and landscapes, British actress Burton depicts a flourishing society built on water and trade, where women struggle to be part of the world. Her empathetic heroine, Nella, endures loneliness and confusion until a sequence of domestic shocks forces her to grow up very quickly….With its oblique storytelling, crescendo of female empowerment and wrenching ending, this novel establishes Burton as a fresh and impressive voice; book groups in particular will relish it.”
— Kirkus (starred review)

“I read The Miniaturist and absolutely adored it. Burton captures the suffocating society and fear of differences with deft strokes.  The magically quality of the story enhances the suspense.  Altogether a surprising and addictive read.”
— Tammy Glenn-Allen, Buyer, NACSCORP

 “Late 17th-century Amsterdam is the sumptuous backdrop for this debut novel… [and as] in all good historical novels, the setting is a major character; in this case the city of Amsterdam, with its waterways and warehouses, confectioners’ shops, and kitchens, teems with period detail.”
— Publishers Weekly

The Miniaturist (9780062306814) by Jessie Burton. $26.99 hardcover. 8/26/14 on sale.

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