Saturday 24 October 2015

New Book Review - THE MINIATURIST - by Jessie Burton

It is Amsterdam,1686, and young, innocent Nella has just married world-weary Johannes, a seemingly prosperous merchant trader. It is an arranged marriage so the two do not know each other.  But right after the ceremony, which takes place in Nella's village, Joahnes leaves his new bride to deliver a shipment to Venice, which will take him away for one month, and it is up to the bewildered Nella to make her way alone to his Amsterdam home after the month is up.

To compound the strangeness of it all, when Nella arrives at his house, which is one of the magnificent tall, terraced houses facing onto one of the canals in Amsterdam, she is greeted by, of all things, a partly open front door and she has no choice but to step inside. Only then does she come in contact with the other occupants of the house: Marin, Johannes' frosty sister, and the two servants, Cordelia and Otto. It is a less than friendly welcome, these three so obviously a tight-knit group, and when the illusive Joahanes eventually returns it is with Marin that he holds council whilst Nella is ignored, hidden away in her own, separate bedroom.

Gradually, Nella is drawn into life in the house and what we are presented with is a most bizarre portrayal of Nella's developing relationship with each one of them and her own growth in character and confidence.

They all have secrets, even the other characters in the novel, and some of these secrets prove to be very dangerous given the puritanical political system of the time, influenced by a calvanistic church, which is not only restrictive but exteremely barbaric. And nothing is as it seems at face value. For example, why does Marin wear beneath each of her austere black dresses a lining of sable fur and velvet? And is Jack London merely a delivery boy? As he plays an increasingly important role in the destiny of Johannes' household, we are presented with more questions than answers.

Central to the story is the large doll's house which Johannes has given as a present to Nella. A strange bridal present you might think and one that has Nella confused, particularly as it is a miniature version of  the house they are living in. Whilst she is not mistress of the main house, she can at least be mistress of this smaller version. She keeps this house in her bedroom and finds an advert for a miniaturist within the city who will make pieces for her doll's house, commisioning three small pieces: a lute (to represent the lute she played for Johannes before their marriage), a betrothal cup (to represent their marriage) and a box of marzipan (again to represent the marriage.)

When they arrive, delivered by the handsome Jack London, she is amazed at the elaborate craftmanship employed. But, to her surprise, there are another three, unordered items for her house: two wooden chairs with backs covered with green velvet and studded copper nails, a cradle, and two whippet dogs. And to compound the intrigue, the chairs are identical to those in the parlour and the two dogs are miniature versions of Johannes' two dogs, even down to the black spot on the belly of one of the dogs. Just how does the miniaturist know such details and what does the cradle represent given that Johannes has hardly spoken to Nella never mind touch her?

And further, unordered items continue to arrive for Nella's dolls house. Each one is very personal to the household, as if the miniaturist knows everything about their lives, not just for the present but also their future.And with each delivery comes a message for Nella, EVERY WOMAN IS THE ARCHITECT OF HER OWN FORTUNE being the first.

As the story unfolds, we see Nella become the woman that these messages indicate, not by choice but by necessity as she has to take charge of the household due to a series of tragic cicumstances.

Nella's search for the miniaturist finally comes to fruition as she stives to understand how she (yes, the miniaturist is a woman)  knows so much about them all. Can the unexplained be explained?

When I started this novel, I thought I wouldn't like it. For a start, it's written in the present tense and I've never read a novel in the present tense before. And secondly, the language is highly descripive and I thought it would be a barrier to the flow of the story.  But I suprised myself by adapting to both very quickly: the present tense makes the story fresh and immediate and I can see its advantages, (so much so that I've written this review in the present tense and will experiment with this style of writing in my own writing); and the descriptions add a richneness to characterisation and setting. It's such an intriguing story all round and I was soon drawn into the lives of Nella, Johannes, Cordelia and Otto, caring what happened to each of them so, yes, I can thoroughly recommend it.

Friday 25 September 2015

Synopsis of my novel CYPRUS BLUES

It is 1973 and the idylic island of Cyprus is a magnet for tourists with its offer of wonderful weather, beautiful scenery, a relaxed way of living and all that sun, sand

 But Kate has come on holiday for a very different reason. She wants to get as far away from home as possible before starting her first teaching job back in England. But she hasn't counted on meeting charasmatic Jack, an expat artist, who has lived on Cyprus for several years. Kate is beautiful but innocent,  Jack is a fun-loving  hedonist, with more conquests than is good for him. Can the two of them ever have a lasting relationship?

And then there's Ellie, a Greek Cypriot, who has lived all her life in london, but has come to Cyprus to marry the charming Tony. It might be an arranged marriage but Ellie has great hopes for the start of a new life well away from her controlling mother. Tony is a Greek Cypriot from a small village in the mountains who has escaped poverty and through ambition, hard-work and a sizable dowry from Ellie's mother, is doing very well for himself. He has opened the first supermarket on the island and merely sees Ellie as a useful workhorse. But can he ever love her the way she loves him? And can he conceal from her the fact that he is part of the Eoka B terrorist group who are plotting to overthrow the President of Cyprus?

As the lives of these four become intwined, there is growing political unrest on the island, with both America and Turkey ready and willing to intervene. Is war inevitable given all the provocations and can these four survive such an outcome? And will not only they but also Cyprus ever be the same?

This novel is now available on scribd

Sunday 20 September 2015


A big thank you to my technical manager, John Knutson, who has posted the revised version of my first novel, Cyprus Blues, onto the e-book site Scribd, plus a beautiful photograph of Kyrenia Harbour, which we took when we went to Cyprus a few years ago. (You can read the report that I wrote of my first visit to the Turkish occupied Northern Cyprus after nearly 30 years if you type in the title "Drinking our way round Cyprus.") 

Anyway, if you want to read the novel, you can find it scribd on Scribd.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I am now working on my second novel – a murder mystery set in a school in Winchester – Winchester Blues. I'm having a lot of fun writing it because I'm basing a lot of my characters on people that I know/knew and situations in schools that I've experienced. It's definitely pay back time!