I was given this for my birthday along with a whole bunch of other books (I am a very lucky individual). Perhaps that’s why it took me a long time to get around to reading it. When I eventually did this poor novel found itself sitting ignored on my bedside table for almost six months. I’d read a few pages, then ignore it in favour of something else, then maybe I’d read a few more.
Now, that’s not because there’s anything in particular wrong with the book. Mostly it’s something that’s wrong with me. I’m too impatient now. The book was vaguely intriguing but it took a long time before things really took off. All the characters are careful to guard their hand throughout, so it takes our protagonist a long time to get to know them. That means it takes us a long time too. It probably takes more than the first 100 or so pages before things start to get exciting.
The book is set mostly in Amsterdam in the 17th century. A young woman, Nella, has been married off and arrives in her husband’s home which he currently shares with his sister and two servants, as well as a couple of dogs. He’s not there. When he arrives he scarcely speaks to her and is intensely preoccupied with business.
Nella feels very alone and frustrated with her new husband’s disinterest in her. He’s kind enough but he never gets around to consummating the marriage. Meanwhile his sister is positively unkind. When her husband gives her a wedding present of a doll’s house Nella is offended at first but, having very little else to do, decides to furnish it. She writes to a miniaturist to request some pieces and this individual turns out to have unexpected skill and perception.
I really enjoyed the second two thirds of the book and this made the slow start worth the effort of wading through. I guess it’s just very deliberate scene setting and character building that, in hindsight, probably is necessary. So perhaps its a lesson to me to be more patient. Even so, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who insists upon the action beginning from the very first page.