The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton // Tape – Steven Camden

The Miniaturist:

“On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of the illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

At first I thought The Miniaturist was based on a true story because there’s a photo of a doll cabinet on the first page…turns out it’s just inspired by the real Petronella Oortman’s doll house.

People seem really excited about this book and I quite enjoyed it. It’s descriptive, but the language flows easily and makes it a relatively quick read, despite its size. I read a couple of reviews that complained about how anachronistic some of the language seemed and while I’ll admit that comparing someone’s reaction to that of a dropped bomb was a little jarring (I didn’t think bombs existed in 17th century Amsterdam, but history’s not really my forte), it seems like Burton did a fine job researching into the lifestyle.

I also read reviews complaining about how Nella seemed too strong and independent for that time to which I ask myself: “A) Why have I started reading reviews when I normally never do? and, more importantly, B) How do we know there were no strong, independent women back then who just didn’t make it into the history books because people were scared of them?” Which seems plausible, when you think about it. But again, I’m no historian.

There were a couple of characters who I wanted to learn more about: the miniaturist, for example. She was the whimsical element that introduced magical realism to an otherwise “normal” historical fiction, and I was left with a lot of questions. Of course, this mystery surrounding her was probably part of her allure and it was a good way to put the reader into Nella’s position of wondering how this random woman knew so much without being told.

All in all, it was quite scandalous (for that time), but well written, especially for a debut author.

Tape:

“Record a voice and it lasts forever…

In 1993, Ryan records a diary on an old tape. He talks about his mother’s death, about his dreams, about his love for a new girl at school who doesn’t even know he exists.

In 2013, Ameliah moves in with her grandmother after her parents die. There, she finds a tape in the spare room. A tape with a boy’s voice on it – a voice she can’t quite hear, but which seems to be speaking to her.

Ryan and Ameliah are connected by more than just a tape.

This is their story.”

First of all, it’s pretty obvious how Ryan and Ameliah are connected from the first five pages, so it was almost frustrating to see how long it took Ameliah to figure it out (3/4 of the book).

I also went in thinking it was a love story (thanks, misleading synopsis on the inside flap); I suppose it was, just not in the time-travelly way I was imagining.

Once I found out that the author, Steven Camden, is also a spoken-word artist, the writing style seemed to make more sense. Granted, my main experience with spoken-word performances is that scene in She’s All That and the only thing I really remember is Freddie Prinz Jr. kicking the hacky-sack around (“Never let it drop.”)…but I digress. My point is that it had a flowing, almost conversational tone to it, which made for some very realistic dialogue, but was definitely more “telling” than “showing” when it came to the actual narrative.

It was a nice story, but I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I felt bad for both Ryan and Ameliah, but, apart from Ryan’s hilarious friend Liam, the rest of the supporting characters were pretty blah and not completely sympathetic to the two pre-teens who had lost their parents. Pretty cold-hearted, but I guess that’s just what thirteen years old are like (being thirteen sucked).

The actual design was fantastic – the page numbers reflected the spools inside cassettes, so that the farther you got into the book, the amount of “tape” wrapped around the numbers decreased/increased accordingly (if I remember, I’ll add a picture to show what I mean). And I liked that Ryan’s parts were written in past tense (and a different font), while Ameliah’s was in the present. Little nuances like that really elevate a book.

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