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22Jun

The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton review – a sequel to The Miniaturist

This thoughtful follow-up is a clever echo of Burton’s debut, tracing a woman’s coming of age in early 18th-century Amsterdam

When we rejoin Nella Oortman, the heroine of Jessie Burton’s blockbuster 2014 debut The Miniaturist, we find her almost as we left her. She still lives in her dead husband Johannes Brandt’s home on the Herengracht canal in Amsterdam, along with Cornelia the cook, Johannes’s once-enslaved manservant Otto, and Thea, the child Otto fathered with Johannes’s steely sister, Marin. So far so familiar, but 18 years have passed: Nella is now 37 and baby Thea a young woman. The three unrelated adults have bonded into a family after the deaths of Marin and Johannes, but their fortunes are dwindling and the once lavish house has been stripped bare.

The family is a curiosity – “the black man who lives on the Herengracht, his mixed daughter, and the widow of the man drowned by the city for his supposed sins” – and Thea’s status as a Black heiress is troubling to the upper-class Amsterdammers she mingles with, who must weigh her “whiff of scandal” against her stratospherically expensive and fashionable home. Nella is keen to solve the family’s money problems by arranging her a lucrative marriage, but Thea resists. Just as her aunt once did, Thea believes in true love. Unlike Nella, she believes she’s found it, in the arms of a handsome theatre set decorator.

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