The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton


Who are you? Why are you? What do you want? The problem is this—heading straight toward the miniaturist seems to make her disappear. And yet, she is so often there, watching and waiting. Nella wonders which one of them is hunter, which one of them is prey. (p. 190)

This novel caught my eye when it was first published in 2014, but it wasn’t until I saw that PBS is going to air a mini-series on it this Sunday that I decided to read it.

The Miniaturist is an interesting story, which reminded me a teensy bit of Rebecca in that it contains a young wife and lots of mysterious goings-on in her new household. The novel is set in Amsterdam, in the 1680s, and tells the story of Petronella Oortman who has left Asselfeldt to come marry Johannes Brandt. He presents her with a cabinet of nine rooms, much like a dollhouse of sorts, as he is a loving man albeit with his own limitations.


Petronella hires a miniaturist to fill the cabinet, whose creations uncannily mimic what comes to fruition within Petronella’s household. We read to discover the identity of the miniaturist, we read to find out specifics of life in Amsterdam during the fifteenth century. It is not the kind of life lived so freely today, where almost any type of behavior is accepted and upheld, as we have no burgomasters passing judgement on every action we make.

Each character is carefully drawn, from Johannes (her husband), to Marin (her sister-in-law), Cornelia (the maid), Otto (the man-servant from Africa) and Jack, a handsome young man from England who betrays them all. There is an interesting concept of  “sugar loaves”, the sale upon which their lives depend, and I found myself fully immersed in this story which Jessica Burton so expertly told.

It will be interesting to see what PBS does with this novel come Sunday, September 9, at 9/8 Central. (You can see the minute and a half trailer here.)

12 thoughts on “The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton”

    1. I’m so glad to hear your affirmation of this endeavor, Lisbeth. The trailer looked quite beautifully filmed, and even seemed accurate (for the minute I was able to watch it). Burton’s story brought very real issues to a very real consequence; I was also intrigued with the idea of the miniaturist being so observant that she was able to predict the future to some degree.


  1. i read this back in 2016 while on holiday in Greece… I still remember how incredible it was, how well written… then, last year, I watched the mini-series to check whether it has done justice to the book, and they did! 🙂


  2. I completely relate to the idea that something has to nudge a book into your hands after a certain amount of time has passed and sometimes a mini-series/TV production can do just that. This is a novel I really enjoyed, even though I wasn’t expecting to see the economic and legal developments in the story. Really, I think I expected it would all be about the cabinet and the miniatures constructed for it, but I do admire the way she used this to explore the ways in which life becomes both smaller and larger depending on how we approach the decisions we make.


    1. I really like your insightful comment about how “she used this to explore the ways in which life becomes both smaller and larger depending on how we approach the decisions we make.” That is a beautiful synopsis for this novel, which I, too, thought would be more about the cabinet and miniatures. I never expected the route it would go, in terms of her husband’s choices and life/death. I did like the historical perspective the author gave us on Amsterdam in the 1600s, though.


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