Category: Literary Criticism

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The Miniaturist: Book Review

Jessie Burton’s debut, The Miniaturist, derives inspiration from a 17th-century hobby for young wives, an ostentatious curiosity cabinet on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, that was built in the late 17th century, commissioned by Petronella Oortman, who wanted a replica of the luxurious townhouse in which she lived in the centre of Amsterdam. Burton’s Petronella Oortman is an 18-year-old country girl, from an impoverished aristocratic family, married off to a wealthy merchant, who, instead of his affection, presents her with the minute replica of the house that she was brought to. The purpose of the gift is to distract curious Nella from focusing on her rather distant husband, but she sees it as ‘no more than an insult to her fragile status.’ It all begins like a naive child’s play, but it eventually turns into something rather ominous with disastrous consequences. The Miniaturist is a true reading delight, well-structured, well-worded, with intriguing characters who go through a major metamorphosis by the time the novel reaches its thrilling denouement.

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The Spy: The Dancer Whose Clothes Kept Falling Off

Spy 2Most people swoon at the very mention of Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian novelist who rose to prominence in the late 1980s with The Alchemist, regarding his every word as a droplet from some source of pristine knowledge and positive energy, leaving me (and most probably a handful of other skeptics) feeling like an utter villain for daring to cast even the palest shadow of doubt and critique upon any of his works. I read The Alchemist for the first time in high-school because a bunch of my amulets-wearing, guitar-in-the-park-playing, on-the-floor-sitting friends were drooling all over it, and then I read it again quite recently, and even though more than a decade ago I pretended to ‘totally get it’ and called it ‘deep’, now I realised that, essentially, my feelings have not changed – it is still a bunch of metaphysical mumbo jumbo, a pop-philosophical self-help book neatly wrapped in fiction. I tried giving Coelho some more chances after the initial debacle, but I never seemed to manage to get over the humdrum spirituality and constant attempts by the writer to give me plenty of unsolicited advice about love and life, and love. Then, a couple of weeks ago a friend came all moon-eyed and shoved a copy of Coelho’s newest, The Spy, into my chest saying that I had to read it because it was ‘great’ and ‘totally different than anything he wrote so far.’