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Posts Tagged ‘Amsterdam’

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In Amsterdam in the late 17th century, 18 year old Nella has been promised as a wife to successful merchant Johannes Brandt, but when she arrives at her new home, he is still away on business. Instead, she is met by his prickly sister Marin and staff Otto and Cornelia.

When Johannes does arrive home weeks later, things do not improve – he seems uninterested in being a husband to Nella, and there is constant tension simmering under the surface between all members of the household. Johannes presents Nella with a gift – a cabinet sized version of their house and instructions to furnish it. For the task, Nella engages a miniaturist to supply furniture for the small house, but the miniaturist sends much more – models of the inhabitants which seem to predict events in the future.

Who is the mysterious miniaturist, and how does she know so much about the Brandts? And what secrets lie within the walls of Nella’s new home?

It is difficult to say much more about the plot without giving away significant plot points. I will say however that I did really enjoy this book and can certainly understand the hype surrounding it’s release. The characters all seemed well drawn and believable, and if some of the events took me by surprise, with hindsight they were perhaps obvious and inevitable. Such is the skill of Jessie Burton’s writing however, that they only became so obvious once they had happened (if that makes sense).

Burton does have a lovely turn of phrase and a beautiful way of describing events and scenes, without being overly verbose. The story flowed well, even with the tense atmosphere throughout. The prologue was perfect once I reached the end of the book, and unlike many reviewers I was not disappointed in the ending at all.

Overall, this book gets a definite thumbs up from me and I have already bought Burton’s follow up novel, ‘The Muse’ on the strength of this.

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Hendrik Groen (the author’s true identity has been kept a closely guarded secret) is, as the title suggests, an 83 year old man who decides to keep a diary of his life in an Amsterdam Nursing Home for a  year. The title seems like an obvious take on The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 1/4, and it’s true that this book feels like a cross sometimes between Adrian Mole and Victor Meldrew of One Foot In The Grave.

Hendrik describes the mundanity of his life, but manages to make it anything but mundane for the reader. He writes about the red tape and bureaucracy which the management have to deal with, and which has effects for the residents (or inmates as he refers to them) of the home, as well as the world of politics, and while he is referring specifically to Dutch politics, much of what he says can be related to other countries as well. Incidentally, if you are not a fan of politics, don’t be put off by the thought of reading about it – Hendrik talks about it in the way that most of us pass comment on the subject with people we know – it’s not vastly in-depth and his sardonic and cynical eye makes it worth reading.

As well as a regular and healthy dollop of humour – there’s something to make you smile or giggle on almost every page – there’s also a great deal of poignancy and sadness as he sees various members of his close circle of friends struck down by ailments such as stroke and diabetes. While he himself enjoys fairly decent health, euthanasia and assisted suicide often crop up in his thoughts, but this does not mean that the book is depressing, just that it provides a bit of insight into what some people might feel. Hendrik never dwells too long on the sadness, and always provides an amusing grumble about one or other of the other residents to make you laugh again.

Overall this is an easy and quick read – undemanding for sure, but one that may well stay with you for some time after you have read it. Highly recommended.

 

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