Thursday, November 20, 2008

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Summary: In seventeenth-century Delft, there is a strict social order--rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, master and servant--and all know their place. Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, and she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry, and the care of his six children. She even feels able to handle his shrewd mother-in-law, his restless sensual wife, and their jealous servant. What no one expects is that Griet's quiet manner, quick perceptions, and fascination with her master's paintings will draw her inexorably into his world. Their growing intimacy sparks whispers; and when Vermeer paints her wearing his wife's pearl earrings, the gossip escalates into a full blown scandal that irrevocably changes her life.

My review:  Almost from the moment I began reading Girl with a Pearl Earring, I felt as if I was having a calming "zen" moment. I think that it made me relax because it was, simply, a very quiet book. There was very little blaring soundtrack playing in my head.

Tracy Chevalier gives us the uncluttered story of a young girl named Griet who, after her father suffers a crippling accident at work, is forced to work as a maid to save her family from destitution. In the home of the famous painter, Johannes Vermeer, Griet is responsible for many of the household chores, but also for cleaning her master's art studio. She must clean the studio without moving anything, not even an inch, lest she alter the background for his current paintings. As the story progresses, Griet becomes increasingly infatuated, though even she would deny it, with the painter and his paintings. Whether he returns these feelings is unclear throughout much of the book...and so much the better. The quiet moments between them--a word, a glance, a feather-light touch--are drenched with meaning, and leave you feeling like the air has been sucked from the room.

We've all been obsessed, slighted, distracted, disappointed, and persecuted. As a result, I found myself really identifying with many of the characters in this book. Vermeer, so fully obsessed by his art that when he paints he either ignores, or is completely unaware, of the trouble brewing in his home. Catherina, the wife of Vermeer--never the subject of her husband's paintings--never in charge of her own home. She loves her husband but is plagued by insecurities and an inability to understand his work. Griet, who fulfills her duties as a maid and daughter, but is drawn inexplicably to a world that is not her own. Her father, who after a long hard life, has lost the thing he values most. I think everyone who reads this book will loathe Vermeer's eldest daughter, Cornelia, whose innate cruelty is readily apparent. The characters in this book are colorful and well-developed, if not always likable, and they definitely create emotions and sympathy within the reader. The scenes aren't fake or flowery and the result is a smoothly flowing storyline that you can allow yourself to sink into. Through it all Griet struggles to stay true to herself and her upbringing but feels constantly pulled to Vermeer and his paintings. Inevitably, Griet's world comes crashing down when Catherina discovers, what is to her, their ultimate betrayal.  Long story short. I loved it. LOVE loved it.

My rating: 5 stars (I own two copies. One to lend. One no one but me touches) No sex but some definitely moments of sensuality. Adult fiction.

Sum it up: Quiet but intense...not something to miss.


Heather said...

I enjoyed your review and agree with you completely. This is one of those books that you want everyone to read but it's difficult to convey the emotion this books brings.

Melissa Paul said...

A great pick!


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