The Miniaturist Review – Returning Books To My College Professor Part 2

I graduated from college and moved into a new house with my boyfriend this week.

So, naturally, I’ve got a few loose ends to tie up. A few weeks ago, as I was cleaning my room for the move, I mentioned in my blog that I’d found some of my professor’s books that she let me borrow a few years ago. She thought they’d be good models for me to look at while I was working on one of my stories that year. I got busy and, long story short, didn’t read them. I’m moving away from campus to start my life with my English degree. I’m reading them and giving them back to her before I leave. The second novel in the stack of books is The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton. This is my The Miniaturist review.

The Miniaturist review. Me holding a signed first edition of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

I hate moving.

In between going through stuff and moving boxes, anticipating my new apartment with my boyfriend, I found myself relating to Nella in The Miniaturist pretty much from the very beginning of the book.

Note: the cover image and link below are affiliate links. I earn commission if you click the links and make a purchase on Amazon. – Buy the book on Amazon.

Nella, 18, has married Johannes Brandt, a trader who’s travels take him away from home weeks at a time. The story opens with Nella moving into his home soon after being married. In her husband’s absence she’s greeted by her new sister-in-law, Marin, and the servant Otto. Nella’s excitement for the marriage soon dissipates as she gradually discovers the dynamics of the house. Marin establishes her power as the woman of the house, continuing to see to her brother’s finances and overseeing the home as she always has despite the presence of Nella. When Johannes returns from his business, he has a large replica of the home delivered to Nella as a wedding gift. Powerless in her own home, she exercises her powers over the dollhouse by ordering pieces from the town “Miniaturist.” As the power struggles continue between Nella and Marin, Nella uncovers secrets.

The tension of the book beats to the characters’ secrets.

So much so that it’s hard to write about the book in a way that doesn’t reveal any of them. These secrets consist of everything from lovers quarrels and sexuality to class and religion. Most of the secrets aren’t very groundbreaking, but they add a level of relatability to the mysterious over-arching plot of the dollhouse. With the dollhouse offering the reader the low-bearing fruit of symbolism of a women and power in the home, the drama over sexuality and race as separate issues become a part of the same problem under one roof.

While at the beginning of the book I feel I relate to Nella, I do find her a bit snoopy, especially as the story goes on. One question is, as a wife, does Nella have the right to snoop? My English-major brain, reasonably trained in feminism and gender issues for the last few years, wants to say both yes and no.

I can’t help but feel for her every time she seeks Johannes’s attention and is left at his heels, as if she were a pet.

Johannes’s attention to his pets are often left juxtaposed with his attention to Nella in the novel. At first it seems problematic: a book written in 2017 that uses one of the inappropriate insults against women by comparing them to female dogs to show characterization? At first, I was a little taken aback by it. After more secrets are revealed, however, it’s clear that it’s at the beginning of the book for a reason. It’s something that only works because of the context of so many relationship issues under one roof. As the issues and secrets continue to build, there doesn’t seem to be any possible way the outcome of the novel could be very positive at all. And after reading the ending, I’m still wondering what the outcome actually is.

But rereading will have to wait until after moving.

I still have to finish cleaning my old apartment. Now, nearly everything I’m taking to the new apartment is at the new place. There’s only a few days before I have to turn my keys back in. I also have to give this book back to my professor, especially since it’s a first edition. (Turns out it’s signed, too.) Moving is taking up so much time that I’m not even able to send her an email yet. To be honest, I’m surprised this book review is done.

I might not get to reread it until I secure my own copy.

That will have to be at some point after I finally land a full time job. I still don’t have any interviews since my one that didn’t go so well a few weeks ago. I can only work at the library on campus for the summer. Being an alumnus, I’m no longer eligible to be a student employee. I hope I get a job soon, before my boyfriend decides that moving in together wasn’t a good idea.

Nella, I feel your pain.

I mean, as much as white, male, 21st century US citizen can feel the pain of a 17th century woman who’s marriage is the exact opposite of what she thought she was a part of. The only minority group I belong to is the gay one. If I learned anything from The Miniaturist, it’s that being gay was (is?) still sometimes less of an issue than being a woman in some societies. SOMETIMES. Or is it?

 The real world is hard.

It really, really is. But enough of my complaints. I have furniture to scoot around and an apartment to clean. I hope you liked the review. Comment down below with your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it. Also, if you found something interesting that I didn’t talk about, spill it! I’ll read something else and write about it, soon. Now, what is that professor’s email address again?

By Eric Shay Howard

Eric Shay Howard lives in Indianapolis. He's a teacher, a literary editor, and writer. He's a graduate student in the Bluegrass Writers Studio MFA in Creative Writing program at Eastern Kentucky University. He also has MBA and BA degrees.

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