Beautiful story about a beautiful work of art, March 18, 2007
Reviewer: Jeanne Tassotto (Trapped in the Midwest)
This is for anyone who has ever wandered through a museum and wondered about the people whose images are displayed there. Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring gazes at the viewer over her shoulder as if she had been interrupted on her way to someplace else. She is a young woman, her head wrapped in an improbable manner with richly colored cloth, not at all the typical style of the day. She has no other ornaments or signs of wealth other than a large pearl earring. The background of the painting is blocked out, as if she were standing just outside of a gaping void leaving the viewer to focus on her large dark eyes and single jewel. There are few historical records of Vermeer's life and no information on the identity of his young model.
Chevalier has taken the inspiration of this painting to tell a story of young Griet whose family had been comfortably well off until her father was blinded at work. Now it was up to Griet to provide for her family, at least until her brother completed his apprenticeship. Griet was sent to work as a made for the ever expanding household of the painter Jan Vermeer.
The reader is shown Dutch society and the city of Delft through the eyes of 16 year old Griet. She misses the happier days of her childhood with her brother and sister and fears her future. As a young woman of the lower middle class she knows that her best hope for the future, her only hope for a respectable future, is to marry well. She is also quite aware that working as a maid has drastically lowered her status in the community and made her prospects for a good marriage unlikely. Added to these worries are the ones unique problems of the Vermeer household, the power struggles among Vermeer, his wife and mother-in-law, the need to please a difficult patron and the ever increasing size of the household. Chevalier has done a masterful job bringing the various characters to life. This would be an excellent book to assign to high school or lower level college students, either in literature classes or as a supplement to history courses. Chavlier, through Griet, give the reader an idea of the challenges facing a young woman growing up in a society that offered few opportunities to women.
Kelly N. - reviewed Girl With a Pearl Earring (Wheeler Large Print Book Series) on
Helpful Score: 16
I let this book sit on my bookshelf for months, not sure why I bought it in the first place. One desperate evening, when I had nothing else to read, I broke down and cracked it open. And I am SO glad I did! This author has an amazing talent for bringing very old history to life. Girl With a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer. Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter's attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings - the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings. I'm now hooked on this author!
I read this book on a camping trip with my family and it was perfect. The characters were very real and I was able to relate to each of them, their positions and points of view. The manner in which the characters were woven together was intriguing and interesting. A delightful book.
Girl With a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer. Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter's attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings - the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings.
In contrast to her work in her master's studio, Griet must carve a place for herself in a chaotic Catholic household run by Vermeer's volatile wife Catharina, his shrewd mother-in-law Maria Thins, and their fiercely loyal maid Tanneke. Six children (and counting) fill out the household, dominated by six-year-old Cornelia, a mischievous girl who sees more than she should.
On the verge of womanhood, Griet also contends with the growing attentions both from a local butcher and from Vermeer's patron, the wealthy van Ruijven. And she has to find her way through this new and strange life outside the loving Protestant family she grew up in, now fragmented by accident and death.
As Griet becomes part of her master's work, their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the ordered household and even - as the scandal seeps out - ripples in the world beyond.
This book was certainly not what I was expecting, having heard all the fanfare about it. The story is told from a teenager's point of view, so the writing, understandably, reads like something a teenager would write. The language was far too simplistic, along with the sentence structure (subject verb, subject verb, subject verb), and these combined detracted too much from the story for me. I felt like I was reading the diary of my 16-year old sister. However, this was a very, very quick read.
I've decided that one of my life's goals is to see every Vermeer painting in person. So far I've only seen The Concert, at the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, many years ago, before it was stolen in the largest, and still unsolved, art heist in history.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fictionalized account of the how this painting, called the Mona Liza of the North, came to be made. This is an erotic novel with NO overt eroticism. You can feel the unrequited passion between Vermeer and his beautiful servant girl, who reluctantly becomes the subject of the painting. The movie is good, the book is WAY better.
The author has done a wonderful job with this book. In reading it you get a good feeling for the social mores of the time and a young girl's confusion in navigating them while being pursued by 3 men; the fastidiousness of Vermeer while both setting up a portrait and completing it; and the unique intimacy between artist and model while sitting for that portrait. This is my first book by this author, but I will definitely by looking for more.
givebooksgirl reviewed Girl With a Pearl Earring (Wheeler Large Print Book Series) on
Helpful Score: 4
Tracy Chevalier's imagery of life as a maid in Holland in the 1600s comes alive when I read about Griet's daily existence, her family, their struggles, her trips to the meat hall and market square where listening is better than gossiping.
But, of course, what truly captures my interest is Griet's "in-her-mind-only" sensual romance with her master, Vermeer. She becomes helpful to him and eventually he will celebrate how he feels about her through his art. Their shared looks and wispy touches sizzle on the page. I want the master to take her and run away, and then I don't. I like how the painter sees into Griet's sensuality. Griet feels it. Deeply. Others, like Vermeer's wife and mother-in-law feel it, too. Interestingly, Vermeer's mother-in-law, Maria Thins, is a character I like. She is blunt, insightful and her influence in society and her Catholicism play a definite role in Vermeer's life. I later learned, through some research on Vermeer, that he was a convert and his first son became a priest. After reading this book, I was delightfully surprised to learn about the movie. Read the book first. But you already knew that, didn't you?
A beautifully written tale of a young girl sent to work for a wealthy artist and his family as their maid. The girl and the artist start a relationship that will forever change her life. Excellent read.
I can't agree with the positive reviews of this book. I've been a great fan of Vermeer's luminous paintings for a long time, and my enthusiasm for a fictional novel about him rapidly turned to disappointment and boredom with the shallow and unsatisfying treatment he receives in the story.
The concept of writing a background story for one of Vermeer's paintings is a great one, but the author does not do justice to it. It's all very flat: one-dimensional characters, an impossibly emotionless protagonist, illogical plot developments, a simplistic writing style, and little specific detail. In fact, there's little description of anything, certainly nothing very vivid that might help the reader imagine 16th century Holland. It seemed more like the outline of an historical novel than a finished one. I generally find it hard to stop reading a novel halfway through, even ones I don't like, but I actually put this one down happily and with no regrets.
The only explanation I can think of for why this book is so successful is that its subjects, Jan Vermeer, the Renaissance, and sexual coming-of-age, are sufficiently interesting topics in themselves that many readers will forgive the poor writing.
Becki (beebs) reviewed Girl With a Pearl Earring (Wheeler Large Print Book Series) on
Helpful Score: 3
This was a good read and an interesting look into the world (and studio) of Jan Vermeer and the life of a simple maid living in the mid 17th century. Viewing the described paintings while reading this book gave me a new eye for viewing art and I see Vermeer paintings with a new appreciation after reading this book.
I had put off reading this book even though I knew it had gotten rave reviews. For some reason I didn't think I would enjoy it. What a mistake...this is a beautifully written story and I could not put it down. I read it in one day!! A blend of fact and fiction, it tells the story of a young woman who worked as a maid for the family of Vermeer, the 1660s Dutch painter and posed for his famous picture "Girl With A Pearl Earring". Tracy Chevalier uses historic facts along with poetic license to blend together a stirring story of what it would have been like for a young, poor and illiterate woman of that time to be at the mercy of her upper class employers and their aquaintances. This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.
"Through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Griet, the world of 1660' Holland comes dazzlingly alive in this richly imagined portrait of the young woman who inspired one of Vermeer's most celebrated paintings."
I really enjoyed this book, it made me want to read other books with similar themes. I recommend it.
Delos - reviewed Girl With a Pearl Earring (Wheeler Large Print Book Series) on
Helpful Score: 2
I really enjoyed reading this, and how it changed how I looked at the world while I was reading it. It is short, and the writing is simple, yet I was drawn into caring about the character so quickly, and more deeply than I ever had in all the other books I've read.
I really really liked this one. A young girl, happy at home until circumstances require that she go to work to help support her family. She is sent to a local painters house (Vermeer) to work as a maid. His wife is extremely jealous, and when he dresses up the maid and uses his wifes earring and uses her as a model the tension builds. His rich sponsor is lusting after the young maid also. A young girl in this situation doesn't have many options. There is a lot of rich detail of the artists family life. The ending is a little bit down beat but will probably end up as one of this years top 10, depending on what else I read this year.
I loved this book. It was beautifully written and takes you back to a time where things were so simple, yet so difficult. I read it in 2 days, could not put it down. Now I want to read more by Tracy Chevalier and also to rent the DVD.
I loved this book! I read it before the movie came out and am very glad I did... the way Ms. Chevalier writes translated well enough but not vividly enough to the screen. Without giving the book away, the way Griets' spirit tries so desperately to remain unbroken... it's a struggle of the soul and interesting to read. You start rooting for her. I hope that makes sense!
Sure, it's a bit of chick-fic, but it's also pretty good historical fiction. Apparently Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek really did know each other, and could have been really good friends, as the book implies. Also, naturally, the book made me reacquaint myself with Vermeer's work, and it made me realize (after describing how paintings were set by the artist in his studio) how most Vermeer paintings really are lit from the top left by the same window.
This book sat on my shelf for several months before I finally picked it up and read it, I just wasn't sure it was something that I was going to be able to get into...but I LOVED it. Once I picked it up I couldn't put it down until it was finished. Chevalier does such a fantastic job of painting the world from the point of view of the young woman in the story...SO much detail, but not to the point of being a bore.
This book was a gift from a friend and not the type of novel I usually read. After putting it aside for several months, I pick it up to read and was enchanted. The story which is set in 1664, revolves around the Dutch painter Vermeer and his fictional muse. The writing is exceptional and the story is fascinating. The blend of history, art and storytelling produces an outstanding work of fiction that could convincingly pass as a biography instead.
Luminous blending of fiction and history in this novel of artistic aspirations and sensual longings. Based on a famous painitng by the 17th century Dutch artist, Vermeer, the book p[ortrays life in Holland in those times
A great read and nice view into the time period. Teen age years can be so emotional, especially for those pressured to follow a well formed moral conscience. Our heroine is no exception. What a fabulous plot and ending.
I hate giving a "not so good review" but this book bored me to tears. I have the painting which is why i was interested in reading about it.. I had to force myself to read a little over half and was so bored, none of it, not one page was really interesting. I finally had to stop reading--big fat waste of time unless you are into the orgins of paintings and the blah language written on these pages--save your point. Because i was so bored i could not get anything out of it and it was not for lack of trying, i'd read pages over and over trying to become somewhat interested-- didn't happen--just not my cup of tea.
Although I enjoyed this book quite a bit, I wasn't as WOWed by it as I had expected to be based on what I had heard about it. Still, it is a very quick and worthwhile read and offers a nice glimpse at what life might have been like for the subject of Vermeer's most famous painting, as well as what life was like in general in a small Dutch town in the 1660s.
Kelly N. - reviewed Girl With a Pearl Earring (Wheeler Large Print Book Series) on
Helpful Score: 1
I don't know why I put off reading this book, it sat on my shelf for a couple of months. It is very well written, interesting and one that I thought about even when I wasn't reading it. It's a fictional account of the life of Dutch artist Jan Vermeer as told by his 16 year old maid. Excellent!
While I really enjoyed this book for it's view of the life lived then, I found it hard to understand the choices made by "the girl with a pearl earring" and accordingly wasn't as engaged in the story as I would have liked.
Working within the context of known art history, Chevalier creates the story behind one of Vermeer's most famous paintings - Girl with a Pearl Earring. But this more of a coming-of-age story, of a young girl forced to work to save her family and who is thrust into a world in which she has little or no control and virtually no say in what becomes of her. I suppose that, too, is true of this 17th century time period. The girl -- Griet -- is pulled into an emotional vortex not of her own making, but from which she must navigate as best as she can. In the end, I felt sorry for her and the way she seemed to be trapped by time, society and circumstance in roles and situations she clearly did not want, did not claim and would rather have avoided, while at the same time those same things kept her from what her heart really sought. In the end I wonder what would have happened if she had reached out for what she truly wanted.
I loved this book. I had seen the movie first and think the book is much better since it examines the girls' thoughts and feelings more in depth. Very enjoyable and I will definitely look forward to reading more of the author's work.
booktermite reviewed Girl With a Pearl Earring (Wheeler Large Print Book Series) on
Helpful Score: 1
Very good book, well written. The author takes the known historical facts about this very famous painting by Vermeer and about the painter's life and uses her imagination to connect the dots and present us with a very compelling novel.
I'm the type of person who will click "Order More from This Member" to see if there is something else on a member's bookshelf that I want to read. Usually I strike out. This time I struck it rich!
There was something about the title, and the cover art, of this book that stuck in the back of my mind. I wanted to read it, to see what the book was about. When I looked on the internet for "spoilers", all I could find were raves. I was prepared for this book to have darker, sexual themes, since you can clearly read the attraction in Vermeer's painting. However, those themes were absent from the book and Vermeer was shown to be a respectable man.
I've heard that there is a movie that accompanies this book and now that I've read the book, I'm itching to watch the movie.
Definitely ranked "I love it" on the star rating system.
I really enjoyed this book. It was fascinating to read about the painter and how he ended up painting the girl with the pearl earing.I also liked the part were the painter taught the girl how to mix the paints and make the colors. This book is on one of my favorite lists.
The author gives us a close look at the period of some of the world's favorite artists. It also gives us a glimpse of the classes at that time and illustrates the fact that most of these artists lived very spartan lives, depending on a "sponsor" or wealthy person to commission paintings of family members.
Loved the book! I had forgotten how many of these impressionists knew each other and traveled in the same circles.
This book was much better than the movie (as almost all books are). So if did see the movie, you need to read the book then. Although this is an easy read, it deals with much deeper themes...unspoken feelings, deep running emotions, etc.
This novel, which imagines a story for Vermeer's "Girl with a pearl earring" painting, was a quick and enjoyable read. The reader follows a girl who becomes Vermeer's maid from age 16 to 18--as she grows from a girl into a woman. The author has done a nice job recreating Holland of the 1660s, as well as creating a character I wanted to follow.
This was surprisingly good. I had my doubts, considering it's set in the year 1665 and I was never a huge fan of history, but the author does an incredible job of mixing truth and fiction. Centered around the maid of painter Johannes Vermeer's wife, Tracey Chevalier has concocted a tale explaining the creation of the painting celebrated for it's purity, radiance, and sensuality. It helps to first study his paintings online because then, as each one is mentioned in the book, you can really visualize the magnitude.
I can't help but wonder what stirred Ms. Chevalier's curiosity to write such a novel. She had to have done an awful lot of research to include so much history about the painter himself and the resources available to him at the time. For instance, there were only about 20 pigments available during the 17th century, and a trip to the local apothecary for bones, and lapis lazuli, which had to be crushed and mixed with linseed oil for the palette, must have been a feat in itself. Amazing after all that work that he got any painting done!
p.s. Since reading this book, I will never look at clouds the same again.
Absolutely enthralling novel about the girl in the famouse Vermeer painting. It is not uncommon for people to look at a painting and wonder the story. The author has taken that as an assignment in this book describing not only the subject of the painting but her world, the characters and events that make her who she is. A quick read at only 233 pages in a small paperback. Highly recommended.
A wonderful story weaving history with fiction. Griet is forced to become a maid in the household of the painter Vermeer, and ends up becoming the subject of the haunting portrait on the cover of the book. The portrait changes Griet's life, but not as you might imagine. Lots of interesting detail about life during the Northern Renaissance period.
Loved this story! Loved the idea that the author brought to life, a girl in a painting, and created a work of art herself. Very gifted and talented piece of work. Read it 3 times already, and will go back to it again someday I'm sure.
Susan B. (sube) reviewed Girl With a Pearl Earring (Wheeler Large Print Book Series) on
Helpful Score: 1
I purchased this for my youngest son's required reading for school. I had the opportunity to read this book when my oldest son was finished reading it for his required reading some years ago, and loved it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book about the 1660's in Holland and the fictional story of Vermeers Girl With A Pearl Earring. It is a good read and flows well with information about the life at that time in Holland. I will never see this painting again without thinking of this story, it makes the art of Vermeer live.
The story of a young girl who serves a famous painter\\\\\\\'s family. While working for the family, she becomes tangled in the web of the master painter. The way the writer presents the forbidden relationship between master and servant is full of tension, lust and desire. It is a wonderful story of love and devotion.
I really enjoyed this book. Initially the copious amount of similes threw me off, but after I got used to the writing style I was very much drawn in to the story. A word of warning for fans of Vermeer: this book will change the way you view his paintings!
History and fiction merge seamlessly in this luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening. Through the eyes of 16-year-old Griet, the world of 1660's Holland comes dazzlingly alive in this richly imagined portrait of the young woman who inspired one of Vermeer's most celebrated paintings.
One of my favorite books. It's a quick read, the writing style is very simple - a fact I actually enjoyed because it makes it all the more realistic as the story is told through the eyes of Griet...a 16 year old servant girl, Vermeer's muse.
With only a few historical records on Vermeer's life (and no info on his model) Chevalier makes up his own story behind the artist's most famous painting. The way he writes it draws a reader in and makes him easy to believe. I'll probably never look at the painting the same way again :)
It's a book that succeeds in being erotic without anything physical ever happening. Girl With A Pearl Earring has everything; vivid characters, intriguing backdrop, tragedy, scandal and unrequited passion.
Tracy Chevaliers novel, The Girl With a Pearl Earring, was a captivating story, a blend of history and fiction, inspired by a famous painting. Set in the 1600s 16 year old Griet is sent to work for a successful painter of the time, Vermeer. During the course of her apprenticeship, her master takes a romantic interest in her as she does him. Chevalier creates an amazing plot for the picture and creates a story that captures the reader although she never fully develops her characters feelings which detracts from the romanticism of the story.
The story that the author creates using this beautiful picture is one that shows an incredible amount of creativity. Chevalier imagines a story behind the painting that is sometimes referred to as the Dutch Mona Lisa. Even though no one knows who the girl in the painting is Chevalier is able to envision a romance about her. She invents a love story that crosses class lines as well as religious lines in a rigid society. The author portrays beautiful imagery for the reader. She describes the paintings making the reader feel as if they are right before them. Griet describes a woman in one of the paintings: She wore a mantle of rich yellow satin trimmed with white ermine, and a fashionable five point ribbon in her hair. The reader can imagine this womans elegant clothing with ease and can easily become mesmerized by by the descriptiveness of the novel.
Although the characters in the novel are interesting and cleverly drawn they lack depth of feeling and their motivations remain hidden from the reader. While it is easy to understand a few of the characters the two main ones, Griet and Vermeer, are never fully exposed. The reader is never told in any depth what Griet feels and thinks and Vermeer remains a mystery. At the end of the novel immediately after Vermeer finishes the painting of Griet Chevalier decides to end the story. Griet runs out of the house when Vermeers wife Catharina, sees the painting. There is no explanation of how Griet changes from this experience or what she truly feels. That left this reader with many unanswered questions.
The Girl with a Pearl Earring was an interesting blend of history and fiction. Chevalier is successful with her imagery and with the plot of the story. However she could have improved the novel by adding the exquisite detail that she used in the plot and imagery, applying it to the characters. The novel, even with those negative points was quite successful for this reader. I simply wanted more.
I read this book on an airplane coming home from California with my husband. Since it was a book that I bought at the airport I did not expect much from it but I was happily surprised. I loved the drama and the mystery of this book. It was a really good story, much better than other books I have purchased in a rush at the airport.
Girl with a Peal Earring is a wonderful fiction about one of Vermeer's Paintings. It really makes you think about the era in which the painting was created. Vermeer was somewhat of a escentric as are most artist. The book also became a movie in which was very close to the book. The ending in the movie was just a little different. I would recommend for anyone who loves historical fiction.
I began reading this book for the Outsatanidng Book Challenge at my school but I ended up really loving the book. I read it in almost 2 days and I am a slow reader. It tells an interesting story with a realistic ending. It makes sense of the painting and is a wonderful read. The main character Griet is realistic and relatable. I thought that this was a wondefully written book great for young girls.
Very sweet story that took me by surprise in a few places. The author did a great job of creating a credible voice for the girl, and keeping it consistent throughout the story. The reflection of Vermeer's life was very much on-track with what is known about the artist, and while this, of course, was fiction it would be easy to believe that this was in fact a true story. As a reader, i really liked this girl. A really lovely read.
This is a great book and I read it in two days. The book does lead you to believe that their is much passion written in the book but I didn't find this to be true. The book is not very erotic as well but the writer definitely makes you feel for Griet. I just kept reading because I sympathized for her plight and wanted to see how everything would play out. It was interesting to me that the book revolved around Griet's beauty and sexual awakening and yet the author never mentioned any description of her beauty. All in all, it is a classic and a great read.
Interesting read which tells the story of Griet, a Dutch girl who is sent to live as a servant for the painter Vermeer to earn money for her family after her father is blinded and can no longer work. The Vermeer household features several children, Catharina-the cold mistress of the household, and another servant. Tensions arise when one of the girls takes a dislike to Griet and constantly tries to get her in trouble. She also creates tension when Vermeer recognizes her abilities and tasks her to assist him which creates jealousy among the household and also when she catches the eye of a wealthy customer and must resist his advances. Eventually the only way to appease him is for Griet to sit for a portrait (The Girl with the Pearl Earring).
I like that the focus of the book stayed on Griet and that kept the story simple and enjoyable. There are so many different points of focus the book could have had but I think Chevalier was smart to keep the focus on the protagonist, Griet. In doing this I got a good impression of what it was like to live in Delft and the differences between the classes and how people were expected to act. Its not easy to picture in your mind how characters should be in a time you know nothing about but I felt liked the way the writing and descriptions allowed you to see it without it being too much. I also didnt mind the background story of the butchers son vying for Griets attention throughout the book. Good description, likeable main character and it made me interested enough to look up some of Vermeers work on Wikipedia so I could see for myself the paintings that were discussed in the book.
Meh. This book, regardless of all of the hype, just didn't do it for me. The main character was too bitter and the book moved very S-L-O-W-L-Y. I made myself finish it. I would not seek out another title by this author based on this book.
One of my favorite books. I've read one other by Chevalier, but this still remains my favorite from her. I was so happy the movie was out and I was able to watch it so soon after to bring a visual to the characters I had been imagining. This is a book I would definitely re-read (if I didn't have a zillion other books awaiting me - ha).
Ever wonder where the subjects come from for the paintings you see in the museums? This book is so wonderful in the story of how this one came to be in a painting, the descriptions of the mixing of paints and lighting were great. Lots of history, a great read.
History and fiction merge seamlessly in Tracy Chevalier's luminous novel about artistic vision and sensual awakening. Through the eyes of sixteen year old Griet, the world of 1660s Holland comes dazzlingly alive in this richly imagined portrait of the young woman who inspired one of Vermeer's most celebrated paintings.
Inspired by the Vermeer painting, this historical novel might be a disappointment if one was hoping to learn about the life and motivations of the master painter. Instead, the book focuses on the fictional Griet, a young woman who is forced to take a position as a maid in the Vermeer household, after her own family falls on hard times. (It reminded me a little of Valerie Martins re-telling of the Jekyll & Hyde story from the point of view of the maid, Mary Reilly)
In bringing vividly to life the trials and hopes of Griet, as well as what it may have been like to work as a maid in 17th century Delft, the book succeeds fabulously the book is quiet theres not much action, no extraordinary events but the littlest things become points of high tension through Chevaliers writing. Will the bullying child Cornelia succeed in ruining Griets reputation? Will anything come of the sleazy art patron whos trying to sleaze his way into her skirts? How about the handsome young butcher who pays her attention at the market? And what will happen with her almost-unrealized crush on Vermeer himself?
Ill definitely check out more of Chevaliers books if I come across them!
A quiet little gem of a book, this is historical fiction at its best. The behind-the-scenes look into the life of a maid in a fine house is written in detail, right down to the petty scheming to get ahead in the eyes of the mistresses of the house. Small-town life and family issues are brought in to the story enough to round it out, but the developing relationship between Griet and Vermeer is the main theme. I like books that are subtle and take their time, and give you a good payoff in the end. This is one of those.
I set this aside for a long time thinking that it wouldn't grab my attention, but I was more than pleasantly surprised! I loved the story, and devoured the book. The book is a fictional portrait of the Dutch artist Jan Van Der Meer, and speculates that his famous portrait, Girl With A Pearl Earring, was of a young girl who worked as a maid in his home, Griet. Griet gets sent to work for Van Der Meer when her father, a tile painter, is blinded in an accident and can no longer support the family. She is fascinated by the art (and artist), but must tiptoe around his wife and numerous daughters, and the other maid in the house. She is also fighting off advances from a butcher. Fans of historical fiction will not be disappointed, regardless of whether you are familiar with the artist or the painting. Highly recommended.
When Tracy Chevalier was a guest on BBC World Book Club she said that the longer she looked at the eponymous painting the more she wondered about the relationship between the subject and the artist, and what made the girl look so yearning and fearful at the same time. This book is an exploration of these questions and answers, and it packs a surprisingly hefty punch for such a slim novel. The surprise is of course a result of the 600+ page tomes we are so used to nowadays, and is a reminder that a book doesn't have to be heavy enough to pass for a weapon or a small boat anchor to hold a world vivid enough to make a reader want to explore it further and characters so complex and full of personality that they stay with you long after the book is finished.
In a lot of ways this novel is like a painting, with symmetry between various characters' relationships, juxtapositions of actions and traits, and repeating details that tie the story together. Just like in the painting Griet is at the center of the novel, with her small world reflected in the pearl earring she must wear to complete the work of art. She is an unusual teenager, by current standards, with her sober appraisal of people and situations, clever navigation of the Vermeer household and her being almost completely distanced from her own emotions and relying on reason more than feelings in her decision-making. Had it not been for their respective circumstances I think she would have made a good partner for Vermeer, despite their age difference, for while devoted to his art she does see the world outside of it. She would balance him out in a way that nobody in his family does.
There is quite a bit of allegory and symbolism in this novel, which also reminded me of works of art. While in New York last week I visited The Cloisters museum and the guide there explained every detail of a statue as a symbol of something relating to the patron to whom the statue belonged. I got a similar impression reading this book that a lot of what happened or existed in the story had a special meaning. Sometimes the allegory is subtle, sometimes it's obvious, but it works nonetheless.
There are as many conflicts in this novel as there are symbols and the main one, the one that drives the story, is rooted in Griet's internal struggle between a good protestant girl who takes pride in clean floors and starched caps and a passionate girl in love with colors and beauty. I think this is the discord Vermeer captured so well in his painting and I commend Chevalier for writing it so believably.
The language of the book and Griet's voice work very well with the subject and plot of the novel. There is restraint and spare prose which are easy to associate with protestant sensibilities, and there are also glimmers of the more liberal aesthetic that runs as an undercurrent in Griet's personality, hidden from everyone, just like her hair, but showing through in her eyes and actions.
I never really understood why Griet's role as assistant to and later model for Vermeer was to be kept secret from his wife. It is true that there was animosity, and the situation could be seen as different despite the fact that this was not the first time Catharina lent her clothes or her jewels for her husband's paintings, but had everybody not acted in an unusual fashion and had they been upfront with Catharina the drama could have been avoided. This novel wouldn't be what it is though either, so I suppose the drama was necessary.
I've been thinking about this book since I finished it, mulling over Griet's decisions throughout the novel, Vermeer's single-minded focus on his work at the expense of everything else, Maria Thin's place in it all and Griet's parents' contribution to the story. I wonder how close Chevalier's interpretation is to what really happened between the Vermeers and the girl with a pearl earring and whether had even one character been different the novel would have been as engaging as it is. The paperback copy of the book I read was on loan from a friend, so I will be purchasing a copy for my home library, because for me this one is a keeper.
I loved this book, having read it before the movie came out! I encouraged my daughter to read it when she was in HS and she loved it too. It always amazes me that an author can look at a painting and it stirs their creativity and inspires such an interesting book. I wish I had that imagination!
I read this book as a historical/fun primer for my trip to Amsterdam. I will definitely be on the look out for certain things! The read was quick, story was interesting enough, if I knew more about art it might thrill me more...
With precisely 35 canvases to his credit, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer represents one of the great enigmas of 17th-century art. The meager facts of his biography have been gleaned from a handful of legal documents. Yet Vermeer's extraordinary paintings of domestic life, with their subtle play of light and texture, have come to define the Dutch golden age. His portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has exerted a particular fascination for centuries--and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier's second novel of the same title.
Girl with a Pearl Earring centers on Vermeer's prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel's quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant--and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model. Chevalier vividly evokes the complex domestic tensions of the household, ruled over by the painter's jealous, eternally pregnant wife and his taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic. Still, Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist.
Throughout, Chevalier cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style, whose exactitude is an effective homage to the painter himself. Even Griet's most humdrum duties take on a high if unobtrusive gloss:
I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary--bones, white lead, madder, massicot--to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and the other colors was magical.
In assembling such quotidian particulars, the author acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama's classic study The Embarrassment of Riches. Her novel also joins a crop of recent, painterly fictions, including Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever and Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Can novelists extract much more from the Dutch golden age? The question is an open one--but in the meantime, Girl with a Pearl Earring remains a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction, and an appealingly new take on an old master.
This is a wonderful book about the deep and complex connections between the main character and the handful of people in her life. All taken place in the 1600's, Girl With a Pearl Earring throws you into the fictional background of the famous painting with the same name.
From Kirkus Reviews
Griet is only 16, in 1664, when she\'s hired as a maid in the grand Delft household of Johannes Vermeer, who practices the Catholic faith and has a family consisting of wife, mother-in-law, cook, and 5 children (by story\'s end there will be 11). Griet\'s own faith is Protestant, and her humble family has been made even poorer since her father, a tile-painter, had an accident that left him blind. Hard-working and sweet-tempered Griet is taken on, then, partly as an act of charity, but the austere and famous painter is struck by her sensitive eye for color and balance, and after a time he asks her to grind paints for him in his attic studio--and perhaps begins falling in love with her, as she certainly does with him. Let there be no question, however, of anything remotely akin to declared romance, the maid\'s station being far, far below the eminent painter\'s, not to mention that his bitterly jealous wife Catharine remains sharply resentful of any least privilege extended to Griet--a complication that Vermeer resolves simply through intensified secrecy. Theres a limit, though, to how much hiding can be done in a single house however large, and when Griet begins sitting for Vermeer (his patron, the lecherous Ruijven, who has eyes--and hands--for Griet, brings it about), suspicions rise. That\'s as nothing, though, to the storm that sweeps the house and all but brings about Griet\'s very ruin when Catharine discovers that the base-born maid has committed the thieving travesty of wearing her pearl earrings. Courageous Griet, though, proves herself a survivor in this tenderhearted and sharp-eyed ramble through daily life--and high art--in 17th-century Delft.