Picking up the story eighteen years later The miniaturist, The lucky house returns to the beautiful house on the Herengracht, in Amsterdam, where we left her. Its first owners are dead, one of them executed for the crime of sodomy, the other died in childbirth. The house resonates with the presence of these ghosts, filling the spaces where their possessions once stood, now sold to support those who remain, existing in warm little pockets of a drafty monument.
Thea is the child left behind, raised by her Afro-Surinamese father Otto, once a house servant, her aunt, Nella (the protagonist of The miniaturist), and their servant, Cordelia. A fat cat, Lucas, lazes around the house as one of the only outward displays of their lost wealth. Whereas The miniaturist showed the despair of life in a golden cage, The lucky house show what it’s like when this cage loses its gilding. It also shows how you can never let go of your past, especially when the eponymous miniaturist returns to disrupt the house. It’s hard to write without revealing your secrets, but it follows Thea as she falls into a clandestine love and the repercussions of that, for herself and her family.
The lucky house is beautifully described: it is a book that shows the changes of the year and how, despite any wealth they might have, the citizens of 18th century Amsterdam ate seasonally and marveled at a pineapple or a mango . These fruits hold a kind of glamour, but also the promise of something beyond their stuffy society. There is magic in The lucky houseglimpsed in these fruits and the miniatures which are given to Thea.
Thea struggles with her own societal ostracization as the illegitimate child of an upper-class white parent and African servant, whom Burton treats with sensitivity, not making her the focus of the book but still showing prejudice intense at the time. Thea is abused by the men she meets, which might allow for authoritative cynicism, but again this is handled with a lightness of touch with a margin of nuance. These men are charming in their own way, multifaceted despite their obvious flaws.
Indeed, many characters of The lucky house are given a depth and complexity of emotion that Burton’s original book lacked. Nella, still in some ways the protagonist, is torn between duty to her family and her desire for love, but is a well-observed product of her circumstances. Likewise, Otto and Thea are characters with complex and opposing motivations that unfold as the story progresses.
The lucky house is a muted sequel, but it feels fitting given the novel and the characters it follows. It shows the reader what really happened after the great first book ended, even if it wasn’t the happiest. While we as readers would love to see ends tied together, each character gets married and lives out their happily ever after, The lucky houseboth as a sequel and as a book on its own, refuses to offer such neatness.