The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
This historical fiction title was (as I remember it!) one of the more talked about titles after its release in 2012. It took me a few years to get to it- mostly because I usually hesitate when a particular novel is sold to me as a must-read. In any event, I finished The Light Between Oceans in a short span of time. However, I was not entirely connected with this story- at least, not as much as I felt like the story was asking of me. For a story detailing the glorious ups of a young couple meeting and making a life together; their desolation in being unable to have children of their own; and their dangerous and irrevocable decision to keep a presumed lost child…I was left feeling rather (oddly) lukewarm with how Tom and Isabel’s story turned out- despite a number of distressing plot developments. I can’t quite put my finger on what I feel the story was lacking for me. Perhaps Isabel seemed too elementary in her life-altering decisions; perhaps Tom was too blind in his love for and protection of his wife Isabel? While never quite reaching a level of emotional resonance I was hoping for, overall, I thought this novel was contemplative, asking some intense and unanswerable questions about dedication to marriage, love and motherhood.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
I must admit that I was first drawn to this novel because of its beautiful and curious cover…but I am pleased to say that I stayed because of the intriguing story. Cloaked in what I would call a shadowed and ominous feeling, Burton’s novel takes us to 17th century Amsterdam. Our protagonist, eighteen year old Nella Oortman, has been matched and married to a successful (and older) businessman named Johannes Brandt. When she arrives at her husband’s home, she soon learns that her vision of a marriage filled with affection and children is likely not to be. Nella’s new husband is extremely private, occupied by work, and her new sister-in-law, Marin, continually thwarts and degrades her. Johannes attempts to treat Nella by way of an extraordinarily expensive wedding gift: that of a cabinet- an exquisite doll house-like replica of their residence. While Nella busies herself by contacting a miniaturist to provide a few particular details and models for her cabinet, fissures begin to emerge within the Brandt household. As the miniaturist continues to send Nella unasked-for figurines- Nella notices that these new figurines disturbingly begin to mimic her life and unveil lethal secrets of her notoriously private household. One caveat: I will say that, for me, the story/direction took some time to develop and build, as did the major characters; some patience was required! But when the pace and voices of the major actors evened out, The Miniaturist gripped and held on. In a manner that is realistic, cautionary and fantastical all at once, Burton has given us a researched, unique and suspenseful story.
Verdict: Good/Very Good