I started reading this highly-acclaimed historical debut novel several weeks ago, but found it slow to get into and let it languish for awhile as I was reading other things. When I came back to it a few days ago I quickly found that the story picked up interest and I raced through to the end. While the setting — a merchant’s home in late seventeenth-century Amsterdam — was meticulously researched and beautifully depicted, and the plot definitely picked up in the second part of the book, I never did feel deeply emotionally engaged with the characters. The set-up should be great, and the story sometimes is — Nella, a naive eighteen-year-old country girl, comes to Amsterdam as the wife of a much older man in a household full of people guarding secrets, and of course you want to know what will happen. Why is her husband so cold? What is her sister-in-law hiding? Why does a mysterious maker of miniatures keep sending her dollhouse furniture that is just a little too weirdly accurate a reflection of what’s going on in Nella’s house?
The novel is very well-executed, but it wasn’t as engaging to me as it could have been and I’m not entirely sure why. Some reviews have read have suggested that Nella suffers from a complaint common to heroines of historical novels: being written as if she were a twenty-first century feminist dressed in seventeenth-century gowns, and there may be some truth to that. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed visiting the world of Amsterdam as it was recreated in this novel, but wished I had been more emotionally caught up in the story.