Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

By Ekta R. Garg

October 4, 2012

Rated: Bookmark it!

A young girl gets hired as a maid in the home of a prominent painter.  When she becomes the inspiration for a work of art, the painter’s wife and other members of society wonder whether the painter has an inappropriate interest in a lowly housemaid.  Only the girl and the painter know the truth in Tracy Chevalier’s focused novel Girl With a Pearl Earring.

As the oldest child of her family, Griet finds herself with the responsibility of earning money to support the household when her father becomes blind in an accident and can no longer work.  Because her father painted tiles, he knows influential members of the Guild who send esteemed painter Johannes Vermeer to Griet’s home.  After a short introduction and conversation, Vermeer and his very pregnant wife (who accompanies him) decide that Griet may begin working for them.  In addition to helping with the five children Vermeer and his wife already have, Griet’s responsibilities will include cleaning Vermeer’s in-home studio.

While Griet’s family may live in the same Dutch town of Delft, she feels like she lives continents away from her home when she crosses the town square to move into the Vermeers’ home.  She begins her time with the Vermeers and finds the world vastly different from her own, and yet this new world also fascinates her.  In particular, she finds herself in awe of Vermeer—he dominates her thoughts just by his sheer presence.  But her duties as the housemaid and the eldest child of her home also pull at her, and when a marriage proposal comes along Griet knows her destiny may take her in a direction different from the one where simple paints come alive on the canvas.

Author Chevalier executes this novel with single-minded focus.  She doesn’t waste time on extraneous characters or subplots, and in the realm of historical fiction Chevalier’s approach is refreshing.  I really enjoyed her purposeful writing; all of her sentences and paragraphs point toward the moment when Vermeer creates the title namesake painting.  Not only does her writing proceed with purpose, but also her lively prose creates a picture as clearly as the paints Vermeer most likely used in real life.

The fact that Vermeer has eluded art historians, to a certain extent, clearly plays into Chevalier’s favor.  She uses the gaps in history and time as fertile ground to create a compelling story.  Vermeer created this painting in the 17th century, but no one knows exactly why.  Chevalier takes that small, seemingly insignificant fact and turns it into a lovely novel that deserves a second read.  She also gives Holland a new look; those who hear “Holland” and think only of tulips will discover another side to the country, albeit one four hundred years old.

I highly recommend Girl With a Pearl Earring.  At some point, I know, I want to go back and read it again myself.

***

What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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