April Book of the Month- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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The original legend of the Essex serpent was Perry’s inspiration

A compelling novel that explores the relationships that tie people together- and break them apart.

Set in 1893, the Essex Serpent follows a troop of characters as Cora Seaborne reacts to her husband’s death. Far from the respectful widow, for reasons which Perry tantalisingly hints to throughout, Seaborne is delighted with her newly-found freedom, escaping with her maid and son to the marshy plains of Essex.

Revelling in her man’s overcoats and the death of the whale-bone corset, Seaborne indulges in her passion for archaeology, and finds for herself what might be a living fossil. Only seen by the disaster it had struck- stolen children, sheep drowned, madness seeping throughout the minds of those in the Aldwinter town- it seems like the Essex Serpent has arisen from the estuary once more. Drawn unfathomably to her polar opposite, the brusque local vicar William (whilst she has her beliefs firmly grounded in science), they explore the nature of the rumours together, discovering for themselves not only the power behind a relationship, but the consequences it can have on others, too.

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This novel is brimming with positive attributes: firstly, it is a joyfully authentic Victorian novel, where every detail, though not tediously precise, contributes to the stifling atmosphere of the smog-filled streets, or helps conjure up the tension that Darwin’s new theory had struck up amongst those in society. So this can appeal to those that love to dabble in the historic genre, especially since this is one of the few 19th-century (style) novels that not only have women starring as protagonists, but are actively rebelling against the roles that society had given them, with the consequences shown, too. Dracula, Frankenstein and Oliver Twist, classics though they may be, don’t give a flavour for the life of women, and although there may be Austen with Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey (which was unbelievably dull, like a stale cracker), here you almost have the real thing but things you care about actually happen.

Like the mystery behind a giant snake in an estuary. Who said mythical beasts couldn’t be in successful adult novels? (It did win Waterstone’s 2016 Book of the Year, after all.) This adds an aspect of intrigue and fantasy to the novel, creating a tone of wonder after it has been soured slightly by the maid Martha ranting about the London Housing Crisis. (Something which I was completely ignorant of beforehand, but now I feel suitably educated in thanks to reading this.) That’s another positive; it covers a wide spectrum of characters in terms of ages and backgrounds, so that the plot isn’t isolated in the stuffy upper-class corner. (Admittedly, it doesn’t have someone from every single ethnic background, or sexual orientation, which apparently has become the benchmark for a book with ‘character equality’ these days, but it satisfies me.)

All in all, a superb read which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in historical literature or emotive, fantastical writing with complex relationships between characterss.

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December Book of the Month – The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

A mystery clouded by mental instability. Raw, shocking and cruel, but above all honest, this is a insight into the world of a teenager battling mental illness. It is clear that, in 2013 at least, the judges of the Costa Book Award were wise. I can’t think of a more suitable winner- I was gripped by the novel and read it in less than two days.

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Matthew Holmes, aged 19, recounts the incident that has dominated his childhood painstakingly, from the computer in his local mental health centre. Why is he there? Diagnosed with schizophrenia, just like his grandfather, Matthew often hears his older brother with Downs Syndrome, Simon, speaking to him. Begging him to play, to come outside and join him:

“If the tap choked and spluttered before the water came, he was saying I’m lonely. When I opened a bottle of Dr Pepper and the caramel bubbles fizzed over the rim, he was asking me to come out and play. He could speak through an itch, the certainty of a sneeze, the after-taste of tablets, or the way sugar fell from a spoon.”

And our protagonist feels compelled to listen. Simon has been dead for over a decade. Some say he died at a Caravan Park in Dorset, but  Matthew believes it was practically murder. The guilt that has wracked him, and wrecked his family after that fated night saw a shocking transition from an innocent, boisterous boy to a teenager stumbling through life, taking all the wrong turns.

For me, it was Matthew’s voice that made this novel remarkable. His voice, breaking free from the words, illustrated the development of his character incredibly. Matthew was almost tangible, and that is what Filer achieves so greatly. That sense of a person speaking just out of sight. That there really is someone out there, a boy that age. It’s how we get lulled into fiction, because it’s all just stories, isn’t it? In the end it’s a product of a person sitting in front of a bright little screen, carefully crafting the characters that seem so spontaneous. The characters we take home and discuss over dinner, and bring into our lives.

One outstanding aspect of this novel was the detail that Filer gave concerning mental health facilities and regimes. He clearly didn’t research through watching films. Actually, Filer was a mental health nurse, and so the vivid descriptions of the mistrust Matthew feels as he is forced to take his drugs tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and to endure the awful side effects, can be taken at face value as that of a (relatively- this is still fiction) accurate account, not that of some dreaming, sheltered author.

Yet on the other hand, there was a minor issue. Only a small one in the grand scheme of things, but it must be mentioned. The great reveal was grossly delayed. It was saved until page 247. By that time the actual suspense had faded away, because my interest in reason to Simon’s death could only last for so long, and by that point I had a rough (correct) idea anyway, so the climax/ reveal came as no shock. It is worth mentioning, that from the outset the protagonist does mention it the ‘shock of the fall’ (yes, that’s the title too!) which kills his brother, but we only really learn why it is has triggered schizophrenia and lasting guilt until the reveal. And marvellous at character building although Filer is, I don’t care that much to be interested until the end of novel.

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Overall I thought that this poignant novel, with a frank and humorous tone, is definitely worth a read because of it’s insight into the life of a teenager with schizophrenia, and the clever use of typography and sketches to aid the narration. Here is a short extract which I think sums up the tone of the novel perfectly:

“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”

So have you read the Shock of the Fall? What do you think of it? What is your favourite book concerning mental illnesses?

 

Room by Emma Donoghue

The best part about Summer is undoubtedly spending time outside, whether it’s having picnics, simply enjoying the sun or staying out late with friends. But for Jack, the Summer is like any other time of year; he has lived his entire life is a single room, with his Ma. The borders of Jack’s world is the walls of Room, where the foundations of his world is Table, Bed and Wardrobe. For him, it is practically inconceivable that anything else can exist outside Room, even when his Ma, with whom he has never let out of sight, told him so.

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Jack is five years old, and this novel is written from his point of view. This is a challenging perspective for Donoghue to choose, and I admire how authentic the sentences sound, because writing in that style is counterintuitive. There are copious amounts of (intentional) spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, which are uncomfortable to read. (Like when you read a sign or an email and there is a blatant error which you want to correct, except you have that nagging feeling throughout the entire novel.) It was so annoying, in fact, that when I first started the novel I hoped this was an introduction of sorts, and the next chapter would be Jack at an intelligible age with a more complex mental syntax so that I wouldn’t have to endure 400 pages of rough language.

Having said that, a novel isn’t shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and the Orange prize for nothing. Room is challenging, facing the issue of captivity boldly, and this is not to be taken for granted. Although I wouldn’t say this novel changes how I perceive the world, (as other people have commented) it certainly puts our general freedom into perspective, and brings to the forefront of our consciousness some horrific issues that are still present in the world today.

However, there were some slight problems, too. I found that when Donoghue was describing a few of Jack and his Ma’s days spent in Room, I got bored. An incredibly detailed description of one day would have satisfied me, because they were all similar to a vast extent. Perhaps this was Donoghue attempting to get across the monotony of their lives; if so, that same monotonous feeling transferred to me. In-depths accounts of what Jack was watching on the TV ceased to interest me very rapidly, as well as how many bits of cereal he ate for breakfast (this is relevant because they have to ration to food, but still not very interesting). Also, I found that Jack’s mother was strangely lenient with him; she didn’t tell him off or have his actions corrected, because despite the pair being in a close relationship, Jack was becoming increasing petulant as the novel went on, and surely Ma would want to teach him manners? Ma was also inconsistent as a character, which I found confusing, because for the majority of the novel she is a fierce mother, and then after the climax she (for those who have the novel) takes an action which forces Jack to stay at his grandparent’s house. Some may argue that this is because of the overwhelming change that Ma is having to face, but it does suggest that she isn’t as close to Jack as originally perceived. Also, the climax. It happens halfway through! I reached it, and then thought, what happens next that can be as interesting? (Nothing, was the answer.)

This novel is worth reading if you are looking for something to stretch and test you as a reader; it is unique in it’s perspective and will offer a great sense of variation from all the many other holiday novels that you may be reading.

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

The title is correct; I can certify that this novel does involve lies. A plethora of them, in fact. And all these lies revolve around a deaf teenage, Shelby, who lives with a bolshy, and strangely overprotective mother. Shelby is harshly restricted by the strict rules and precautions that she is entitled to follow- but she understands that Shaylene just wants her to be safe. However, once Shelby is admitted into hospital, following a horrendous car crash, her previously sheltered life begins to reveal the seemingly implausible lies that have clung to her throughout her life. And each layer of deceit is peeled away, Shelby’s world is spun ever faster into the oblivion of the astonishing.

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I thought that this novel was relatively engaging, although I thought that there wasn’t enough momentum to motivate me as a reader in the first half of the novel. There was a delightful contrast between the whimsical magical world called “the Dreaming” and the harsh, terrifying world that Shelby predominately inhabits. However, I was more drawn to the magic orientated world: I found myself impatiently waiting for the reality chapters to be finished, hurriedly reading them, so that I could reach the more appealing thread of storyline.

The characters were arresting, but were not particularly relatable or appealing to my sense of affection. Shelby’s mother is frankly psychotic for incredibly poor reasons, and also is brimming with confusing character inconsistencies. Shelby was courageous and smart, yet occasionally I perceived her to be over emotional, and that she made several times some peculiar decisions that I would question. It must be admitted though, that the ending was wildly unpredictable, and that it wouldn’t have ended so unanticipated if it wasn’t for characters’ bizarre motives.

There Will Be Lies is a devious type of novel; riddled with mystery and erupting with twists, you are guaranteed to surprised, if not only by portrayal of a deaf protagonist. Have you read There Will Be Lies- do you think it deserved to win the Carnegie Medal?

Book of the Month June- The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

An astounding, sharp novel, with a twist (literally…) I adored this smart novel- the concept behind it was original and I loved the refreshing style using the short stories: the book is split into four stories, and each one has a completely unique storyline, set in various stages of our time on Earth, including the future:

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The first story, Whispers in the Dark, is set in the stone age, and is written in lyrical prose, which is a contrast to what is normally found on YA bookshelves. It was interesting. Except personally I found that the language was too simplistic, although this may have been intentional on Sedgwick’s part because it is told by a girl whose community haven’t formulated language yet. Still admirable what can be illustrated with few words though.

The second quarter, called The Witch In Water, is set in the Puritan times and opens with the funeral of the protagonist’s mother. It is during this time period being accused of Witchcraft was common practise, and when a replacement priest starts to dominate the town, the unsuspecting girl is put on trial for being a witch.

The next story is the Easiest Room in Hell and personally my favourite out of the four. This was because it was took place in a 1920s lunatic asylum and was a bizarre, yet slightly unsettling setting. It follows the work of a new doctor, as he not only befriends one of the inhabitants, but learns of the dark secrets lurking between the asylum’s walls.

The final story is The Song of Destiny, which is set on a spaceship. It is set in the distant future and is not only an incredibly philosophical tale, but also brimming with mystery. This is because the meagre number of passengers onboard the spaceship is starting to rapidly deplete- but clearly these deaths are not natural. There is a murderer onboard the ship. But who?

The best thing about this novel is that it is written in a way that these quarters can be read in any order, (that’s 24 different combinations,) and it will still make sense.

I enjoyed reading these short stories because they were completely self-contained, and each one was entirely distinct to the others, both in form and style. This means that the stories can not only be enjoyed as snippets of a wider message, but as creative stories in their own right.

Each quarter has a slither of information linking it to the next, (whichever next story you may choose that to be) and this aspect is ingenious and fabulously well-thought through.

Most notably, the spiral is a core motif in this book, recurring continuously, as it reminds us of the continual nature of the universe; after you read this novel, you start to notice them everywhere! I chose this novel to be the book of the month because I think that this is one you can read again and again and you will still find intelligent nuggets of information you didn’t notice the first time around. Also, it is utterly unique to any other book I have encountered before (which is quite a few). So it definitely deserves credit.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

A sinister Victorian murder mystery that revolves around the force of lies, the power of a patriarchal society and revenge.

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When Faith’s family suddenly moves to the dull, rainy island Vane, she is told that  her father is visiting an archeological dig, but soon she beings to have suspicions. Her suspicions blossom, and despite the her family’s best attempts, so do the locals’. When the island finds out the true reason behind their escape from England, their carefully constructed reputation shatters, and they are alienated from society.

Now Faith is suffering; lonely and isolated, with only a vain mother, uncaring father and pestering brother for company. And books. Faith adores knowledge, consumes it and inhales the facts. Or she used; now, it is uncalled for ladies to desire knowledge, and it’s dangerous too.

So, late one night when her father calls her into his office, seeking her to join him on an expedition, she is delighted. It is an opportunity to learn more, enjoy the rare company of her father, and to slip out of her prim orderly life for an evening. Yet by the next morning her father is dead, and she has an obscure tree to look after. It is where the lies begin. And then they gain power, morphing into a life of their own, and soon, are unstoppable.

This novel was incredibly atmospheric; immediately after I started reading I felt enveloped by the dense words and was transported into Faith’s peculiar 19th century world. However, at times I felt like the writing was very heavy and over-bearing to read, making it a slightly painful experience, because I always had to be concentrating to fully understand what was going on, and felt I couldn’t always relax into the novel. The book progresses massively in style; for me the opening scene was excruciatingly bland but as I trudged on further through the chapters, I was rewarded. Having said that, it was written cleverly, and it always appeared to me that the plot had flourished and grew on it’s own; that it wasn’t the outcome of some author’s toil. All of it seemed to happen so naturally.

The characters developed wonderfully, and by the end were overflowing with rich desires and feelings, something which was unclear at times previously. The climax was near the last section of the novel, and it was amazing-There were mountains of suspense and the air was cracking from the tension; I fully understood the characters at this point too, and was comfortable with the plot.

I only mention the latter, because at several points I was overwhelmed by the amount of middle-aged male characters, and kept on confusing them in my mind. I think this was predominantly because Hardinge had not given them any specific defining features, physically and internally. I became more familiar with them towards the end though, and was able to differentiate them mostly by their actions, not by their intrinsic identity.

Faith was a tremendous protagonist. We start off the novel and she has glassy-eyed, slightly subdued character, where she only voices her timid opinions internally. Later on though, as several events influence her, she gains confidence and becomes a more forceful person. A large leap, one might say, particularly a society run by patriarchs…

There wasn’t any romance in the novel, and although I thought this generally suited the plot, it would have been even more dynamic with it. I was unsure why Faith hated Paul Clay so much as well, because he didn’t do anything outstandingly resentful, therefore making her strong feelings slightly unnecessary.

This was a great novel, extremely atmospheric and thrilling. It was slow to start off with, yet gained momentum as the plot progressed; some think that this is ideal because it sets up the scene whilst others feel that it’s unnecessary. I personally think that, although it is labelled YA, it is an intriguing and thought-provoking read for everyone who enjoys fantasy. Please note that excitingly, this review appeared first of the Guardian Children’s Book website- which I am really pleased about because it means that my reviews are going places!

Risuko by David Kudler

This dramatic novel will transport the reader into the perilous world of Japan, entangled in the ruthless civil war of 1570.

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Risuko fulfils every opportunity to climb; trees, castles, walls- in fact, she earned her nickname Risuko- Squirrel because of her curious hobby. Risuko is content, although since becoming fatherless her family have been trudging on the weary road of poverty, and Risuko is surviving on what pitiful rations her mother can afford. Yet suddenly Risuko is snatched from her peaceful existence by  a glamorous, frail figure, and her life morphs into one of bewildering lessons. Yet, as the civil war surges on, Risuko is far from sheltered by the brutality in her protected academy.

Unlike many novels that haunt our bookshelves today, this one isn’t tiresomely long, and at roughly 200 pages, the emotional plot slotted in perfectly into the pages, without dragging on. I enjoyed the most reading about the in-depth research that went into this novel, particularly the extravagant names for items and people, such as Murasaki, Chiyome and a miko. Also, thankfully it deviated somewhat from the stereotypical samurai stories, but at the expense of possibly only being enjoyed by a mainly female audience. I say this because the novel is absolutely dominated by female characters (the only thing saving it from flailing in the seas of another samurai sword flashing book is because of the original, nearly all female, Mochizuki academy) and despite the handful of male characters featured, they cannot salvage the novel in that sense. This novel will only have a target audience of realistically around 10-14, and at that age I doubt many boys are interested in an overall female cast (where they disappear once a month to the Retreat, during their “Moon time”-I found that weird because it didn’t seem entirely pragmatic).

There was an almost informal style to the writing because of the simple language used, which is unfortunate because the foundations of this novel is superb, but in the actual literary sense it is disappointing. Often, there were phrases repeated, which is irritating as a reader because a skim through of the novel is all that is needed to solve this issue. Also, I noticed several spelling mistakes (in one instance I saw the word “exarcise” which jolted me in shock and surprise out of my flow of reading). I was also bemused by this extract; “I was thinking of Lady Chiyome’s interrogation that morning: Who are you working for?” This ultimately was the worst sentence in the novel, because this is one of the most overused sentences in a spy blockbuster film. This is not Hollywood Kudler, this is 1570 AD Japan. The sentence was glaringly obvious; out of place and incredibly cliche.

On the sense of stylistic devices, there was a rather minimalistic approach, where only adjectives would suffice. Having said that, the world encapsulated by Kudler did feel extremely substantial, yet at times visualisation of the characters was tedious. All the information I receive about Emi, for example, is that she is taller than the protagonist Risuko, and frowns a lot, with the latter repeated relentlessly. Agreed, repetition is a useful tool to gain emphasis, however I am still lacking a severe amount of other details about this character, which makes reading stilted as I have to create a character’s face every time the name crops up.                                                                                                                                    Then there was Kee Sun, the chef, who always pronounces his “you”s like “yeh” (‘”…I don’t think it’s someone come in from outside o’the wall over and over without anybody knowin’, do yeh?”‘) Unfortunately, Kudler has created the effect of, not a Korean chef, but a rusty English pirate, which was frustrating.

So, for the novel to be improved, I suggest that the editors could reread the novel, and replace all repeated sentences or phrases, check for spelling mistakes, (as there should be no reason for them in the age of auto-correct), and for Kudler to try and appropriately describe in more depth the characters, so that the readers can see beyond their two outlying characteristics.

I would recommend this novel to girls (or openminded boys) of the age of 10/11 years old who are looking for an action packed, historical adventure. It is generally thrilling with a twist of mystery, and you will benefit from this atypical insight into Japanese history. There are some issues with the novel, but it is  going to be released on the 15th June 2016, so I hope that by that time most of them will be solved, enhancing everyone’s reading experience!

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

An astounding début novel that delves beyond the cliché college drama into a much darker, sinister reflection on life of those lounging in the exclusive corners of society.

Richard studies at Hampden college, and after arriving, on a whim, takes a sudden change in subject into Classics. Soon he is accepted into an eccentric and elite group that seem, for their unbelievable intelligence, completely oblivious to contemporary life. Before long Richard’s life is tangled with that of his newly made friends, a diverse and bizarre group, whom he seeks to understand. Yet the façade slowly gets worn down and whilst he’s roaming in an ordinary life, he does he realise that not only is he entangled in this cobweb of lives; he’s being plunged into a profoundly different world.

This is an incredible novel; firstly the meticulous level of detail applied to the plot stands out. Each character, sentence, sub-plot has been applied into the novel with such a pedantic level of care yet it does not draw any attention away from the powerful and compelling plot. This novel is undoubtedly a thriller; but that does mean everything happens at hyper speed. Despite the plot occasionally drifting along a river of tension, it was as equally compelling as when the most important action happened. This is not because of ill-use of writing techniques; Tartt manipulated language so that even when the pace is slow (predominately the first bit of the novel) it is still interesting to read. However, this was not achieved through the use of hyperbole but because of the reader’s care for the quirky characters.
I love the characters that are in the novel; they are far from the bland, dull eyed students that plod through the ink of many college novels today. It took Tartt 8 years to write this novel; it is clear that a portion of this went into painstaking character history. There is a shrouded history for each person, and it is only rarely that we can peer through the smoke and grab the meagre pieces of information given to us. Enough to survive on, but I’m always wanting more.

Do not be put off by the number of pages; it is worth the commitment. I think you will be hard pressed to find another thriller quite like this; it’s in a league of it’s own.

 

 

She is not invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

An intriguing and unusual novel about the struggles of growing up, especially in a world where unseen obstacles are everywhere.

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Laureth Peak is concerned when she receives an email from a stranger notifying her that they have found her father’s notebook. To add to that her father has not replied to her texts and calls, which made Laureth feel alarmed.  Based on this minimal evidence, and a gut feeling, she takes her 7 year old brother with her and embarks on a journey to New York, the place where the notebook had been found.

I thought that the book was well-written, mainly because Sedgwick made the characters stand out, as well as likable. There was a variety in the characters, however I disliked that (spoiler) in the end, the antagonist of the whole novel was just a stereotypical robber. One you can find in most books. I thought that the novel had lots of potential because Laureth is blind, and this was an interesting perspective to take; I think in some scenes Laureth’s blindness was portrayed very well, yet at other times you almost couldn’t tell, so I thought that there should have been more of a balance or a constant way that Laureth saw the world, as it were.

Laureth has an amiable character; she is intelligent, thoughtful and resilient. And she’s blind. I loved this twist because it gave the book an unusual perspective which is rarely found in novels. It makes you appreciate your sight even more, and how everything we take for granted, like going on our phones, becomes so much harder and complicated due to a disability. And it was because of this that I drew comparisons between She Is Not Invisible and The Curious Adventure… as they both feature teenagers with a varying disabilities. Lots of people in the novel were prejudiced against Laureth just because she couldn’t see, and despite this Laureth would still carry on and continue to be irrepressible, which I thought was inspiring because she didn’t let it get in the way of her plans. My favourite parts in the book was when she was interacting with her younger brother, because that showed that even though Laureth was in charge, due to her age, there was still a lot of dependence on her brother because of her disability. And then there were completely normal conversations between them which was a curious contrast.

Benjamin is Laureth’s younger brother. He was helpful and cheerful enough, showing all the characteristics that a 7 year old boy would normally have except one. Whenever he touched an electronic device, it would turn into a black mirror and become useless. This was an unnecessary trait for Benjamin to have, because it made the novel at times have a slightly unrealistic feel, where Benjamin was almost had a superpower, making it hard as a reader to know if this was meant to be novel happening in our world, as that kind of trait only belongs in fantasy.

Aside from the characters, the plot line in itself is quite weak, because it is a big leap to go from, my dad has not answered my texts, and has lost a precious notebook to HE’S GONE MISSING, and suddenly go on a journey top find him.  As I mentioned earlier, I think it is a shame that the plot was mundane in a way, because in today’s world there are hundreds of people who have written books about people going missing, and this one wasn’t that different except that the protagonist had a visual disability. Yet in the book, this wasn’t expressed enough, enough at least to make the book ‘different’ in my mind from all those other similar stories. I also thought that the bit he mentioned about Laureth’s school seemed to captivate me really quickly, but it was only mentioned in several paragraphs, so I would have preferred to have had a bit more information about that aspect of Laureth’s life!

All in all, I’d rate this book 7/10, because it had an interesting perspective and was well-written, but was let down because of a slightly unoriginal plot. Enjoy!

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I had to read this book. I simply had to, because how else would I join in the bookclubesque chats that my friends had about the Miniaturist?  Well, I can safely say now that whenever the Miniaturist is brought up I can offer an honest opinion…

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The Miniaturist was a bold book with streaks of originality, with interesting and elusive characters that lit up the pages. I like that it offers you an insight of 17th Century Amsterdam, which I thought was an unusual idea. The plot is gripping, and certainly got me staying up late at night…

I loved the characters. I honestly think that Burton did an excellent job, hinting here and there surprising and occasionally mystifying hints about the characters. I think that it would have been interesting to see parts of the book written from the different points of the Brandt household, because each have such a rich history. However, it is written in third person. I think if Burton really did write it from multiple view points it could either be a complete success or an utter failure, because much of the whole atmosphere of the book relies on hidden secrets, and if it is from many viewpoints, that mystery may either be enhanced, or destroyed.

Nella Oortman, the protagonist, is a witty bride who has moved to Amsterdam from the countryside to start her new life. Nella barely knows her charming husband, Johannes Brandt, yet she has already envisioned a future for herself. However, upon her arrival at her new home she is met only by his icy, unfriendly sister, Marin. After her husband almost completely avoids her for the first few days at her new home, he gives her a gift, something to replace his absence and occupy her. A miniature version of her own home. Frustrated and bored, she sheepishly takes up the offer and furnishes her home, hiring a miniaturist to create objects to put in her dolls’ house. But then the miniaturist starts sending Nella things on their own accord, and they surprise her in more ways than one.

As the book progresses we see that Nella starts to become more mature as she reacts and learns from her experiences in Amsterdam, as she was sheltered from a lot of things by growing up in Assendelt. Slowly, she is integrated into the Brandt household, occasionally confused by the mannerisms of some of the people. The maid’s audaciousness, for example, complexes her, but as the novel progresses we realise that the Brandt household is not so much a household, but despite it’s limited number, more similar to society.

I thought that this was an awesome book and that you should read it if you’re up for something a bit edgy and despite it being set in the 17th century it still reflects modern times. Enjoy and let the haunting prose twist and turn through your thoughts, as well as learning something about the history of Amsterdam