Written by: Jessie Burton
An eighteen-year-old Petronella Oortman finds herself tied in betrothal to the kind-hearted yet enigmatic Johannes Brandt, whose wits and riches name him one of the most well-to-do men in seventeenth century Amsterdam. Albeit palatial in structure, Nella finds the Brandt household rather inhospitable — owing to the air of tension evinced by its walls and the people within them: the nosy chambermaid, Cornelia; the mysterious manservant, Otto; and the fickle sister-in-law. When her husband gifts her with a miniature replica of their house, Nella is thrust into a dangerous game that will both imperil her, and the secrets of her new home.
Thoroughly researched, this novel paints an accurate portrait of life in the seventeenth century. From the speech to the most minute of imagery, Burton provides the readers with a clear picture of the cultural norms of the period: the trade, the opulence, and the one-track mind of religious society.
Bold in its showing of homophobia, misogyny, and casteism, every turn of the page presents itself in gasp-worthy grandeur. The characters, all lovingly sculpted and in turn endlessly engrossing, present themselves in the haughty sophistication that would be anticipated from persons who come from such a community.
The keenest of eyes may infer that Marin Brandt, she of the stiff collar and the upturned chin, represents the entirety of that stage in history. Although the characters each bear contributions to the photograph that is Dutch characteristic, she reveals herself to be the instigator of the twists of the scheme. As cold and pious in veneer as she is internally filled to the brim with passions both wicked and naive, she demonstrates the charade that the Amsterdam society adapted, born of the need to belong, for safety, for security, and the intrinsic urges of the masses towards liberation.
Venturesome in ambition and most times confusing, I daresay this is the perfect one-night stand.