Sunday, October 26, 2014


There’s a good way to market a novel, and then there’s a bad way. Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, is a victim of the latter, and it’s really too bad, as The Miniaturist is a fine piece of literary fiction . . . but therein lies the problem.

It’s sometimes said that genre fiction resolves and literary fiction resonates. Such is the case here, where the story of 18-year-old Nella Oortman, who’s just begun a new life in the city of Amsterdam after marrying merchant trader Johannes Brandt, winds its way toward an ending that is far more thematically satisfying than a piece of genre fiction usually is. On the flip side, however, its plot resolution is . . . well, a bit light, as knots are left untied and questions left unanswered. But the novel’s conclusion is intentional and not a flaw in the design.

The problem here revolves around the titular miniaturist who is commissioned to build a fully-furnished, cabinet-sized replica of Nella’s new home. As the novel progresses, this elusive miniaturist crafts more and more tiny replicas, though now of the people living inside the home. These new creations, however, mirror their real-life counterparts in sometimes surreal ways. As the blurb on the back of the book asks, “Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to the inhabitants’ salvation or the architect of their downfall?”

Sounds like a thriller, doesn’t it? But The Miniaturist most assuredly is not. The prose is vibrant and rich, and the characterization is complex and colourful, which aren’t characteristics exclusive to literary fiction, to be sure, but it does suggest that this is a serious work of fiction, as opposed to a silly story about a doll maker out for blood or some other such nonsense. Trouble is, you wouldn’t know it from reading the blub on the back of the book.

While a glass cutter by day, by night Z.S. Roe spends his time writing fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His writings have appeared in various publications, including the Cambridge Times, The Silhouette, and The Toronto Sun, among others. Most recently, his short story “Peeping Tara” appeared in issue 13 of Dark Moon Digest. You can visit his blog at

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed The Miniaturist because of the rich details of life in Amsterdam during this time period. I also thought Nella was a good character proving herself to be smart, capable and surprising loving towards her new family.