Absorbing tale of secrets

THE MINIATURIST<br><b>Jessie Burton</b><br><i>Picador</i>
THE MINIATURIST<br><b>Jessie Burton</b><br><i>Picador</i>
Jessie Burton's first novel, The Miniaturist, is set in 17th-century Amsterdam and tells of the obsessive relationships of several members of the Brandt household.

Marin and Petronella, sister and wife respectively of wealthy Johannes, are each wary of the other, Nella particularly as she becomes the wife of Johannes by means of an arranged marriage, and Marin knowing Johannes to be vaguely contemptuous of marriage yet somehow charming in his regard for Nella.

Add Otto, a sometime slave and alarmingly erudite, to the mix and we watch this quartet, plus Nella's maidservant, Cornelia, live in what could pass for an ordinary household.

Johannes' wedding gift to Nella is a lifelike model of their home and from here the story develops, with the arrival of parcels of small ''dolls'', each representing the real-life family.

In Nella's search around and about the city, trying to find the person who appears to know exactly what is happening in the household, we are treated to viewing the commercial landscape and personal lives of people of this era.

An absorbing tale of secrets long withheld and brought to life in a compelling way by this London author.

- Colleen Hartley is a literature devotee.

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