Holiday Reads: The Miniaturist and Wide Sargasso Sea

I have just got back from a week in gorgeous and sunny Majorca, where I devoured two great books: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.




The Miniaturist 


It's been a long time since I've come across a book like The Miniaturist; a book that you can't put down and that you can't wait to pick back up again.
Even as an former English student who is used to having a tight reading deadline, I read this 400-odd page book abnormally fast. The book follows the protagonist, Nella Oortman in a year of her life, 1686-87. Nella is an eighteen year old girl, who moves to Amsterdam to live with her new (and considerably older) husband, Johannes Brandt. Here she comes to learn about the deceit and lies that hold the city together, with her wedding present from Johannes- a cabinet-sized replica of their home- seemingly shedding the only light onto her new world. The rare, wonderful and compelling thing about The Miniaturist is the way that it combines suspense and a great plot, with beautiful, and at times almost poetic, writing. I fell in love with this straight away-  the second sentence of the novel reads: 

'But words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot, and the church's east corner is crowded' 

Burton creates a lively and energetic world which encapsulates the reader. She describes every detail of her world beautifully. The same thought and love goes into her characters; Nella and Johannes, Marin, Otto and Cornelia, and Agnes and Frans Meermann (to name a few). The only negative point I could raise about The Miniaturist was the ending. I think after 
 investing so much in the characters and the story I just expected more from the ending, and was left wanting a more apt conclusion to the story, but of course this is just subjective. That being said, I loved this book and it was a holiday read that will always mingle with the great memories of my holiday.


Wide Sargasso Sea


As a lover of Jane Eyre, which was a very early favourite classic, I was very interested in the concept of Wide Sargasso Sea. In it, Jean Rhys has attempted to penetrate the characterisation of Bertha from Jane Eyre- Mr Rochester's 'mad' first wife. In Jane Eyre, 'Bertha' spends the majority of her time locked in a room which is constantly guarded by a maid. She is characterised as unhumane, beast-like and terrifying. 

Jean Rhys gives Antoinette Crosway (her 'real' name) a history, a life, and humanity. The reader feels empathy and sympathy for Antoinette, a feeling that was definitely absent in Jane Eyre. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette is born in Jamaica into an oppressive colonist society as a Creole heiress. She lives on an estate called Coulibri Estate. 

One of the main, and most interesting themes in the book is the segregation and discrimination found in the colonist society. Antoinette and her family are racially abused and their house is set on fire as a result of this divide. The theme of truth and reality is also prominent in the novel. Lies and rumours surrounding Antoinette and her family entwine with truth and reality throughout the novel, leaving a feeling of uncertainty and claustrophobia, as the layers of lies become an inescapable and unsolvable web. The uncertainty begins when Mr Rochester (who is never actually named in the novel) hears rumours that madness is hereditary in Antoinette's family, stemming from her mother. Mr Rochester marries Antoinette very swiftly after meeting her, and seemingly does it to meet some financial arrangement with his brother and father back in England. The narrative viewpoint shifts between Mr Rochester and Antoinette, giving the reader an insight into both minds. By the end of the novel I felt unsure who was mad; Mr Rochester or Antoinette. Either one, or both of them, seem to lose their grasp upon reality. 

This novel varied so much with The Miniaturistic, which was light and easy to follow. Wide Sargasso Sea was very much open ended- you could interpret it any way you wanted. I loved the concept and found it so interesting, but I definitely got more enjoyment out of The Miniaturist on holiday.