Debut novelist Jessie Burton will present her new historical novel, “The Miniaturist,” at BookCourt in Cobble Hill on Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. The book, which went on sale Aug. 26, combines history and mystery — and is already generating buzz amongst writers and critics.
“The Miniaturist,” based on real people, was inspired by the author’s visit to an Amsterdam museum, where she was drawn to a famous 17th-century replica of a wealthy merchant’s mansion that had originally belonged to a woman named Petronella Oortman. The novel focuses on the domestic world of women in a repressive, religious society. “Petronella became my heroine, Nella,” Burton explains, “and from her miniature house, my story was born.”
In the novel, Petronella has come to Amsterdam to take up residence with her new husband, Johannes, a virtual stranger twice her age who spends his waking hours away from home tending to his wealth. Johannes’ one act of tenderness is his unusual wedding gift to Nella: a cabinet-sized exquisitely detailed replica of their grand townhouse.
Nella engages the services of an anonymous miniaturist to furnish her gift. When the miniaturist begins to send copies of things that have not been requested, Nella is both disturbed and intrigued. As she uncovers her new home’s secrets, she begins to understand and fear the escalating dangers that await.
“I researched as I wrote,” explains Burton. “I needed the fictional story to pose factual questions rather than just me absorbing historical facts and regurgitating them as prose […] I had the fictional skeleton of the novel in my head, but certain facts, like what pie they might have eaten and in what season, or the debts accrued with a tailor […] would trigger my imagination and root the story in a factual, yet still impressionistic, setting.
“The facts that I learned allowed me to play,” says Burton. “I let imagination take control.”
The Sept. 13 event will begin at 4 p.m. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.
Jessie Burton was born and lives in London. She studied at Oxford and currently works as an actress, in addition to pursuing her literary career. This is her first novel.