Thursday, August 14, 2014

"The Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier

What drew me to this particular novel was the cover, and pretty much nothing else. In my teen days, cover lust could drive me to buy just about any (bargain) book, and I generally had good results with that system. Also, I've always been a bit partial to books about art, and given this book's title, I figured I would like it.

Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction, due mostly to this book. Anytime art (or an artist) is brought to life, it changes the way we look at the painting. The Girl with a Pearl Earring was never a standout piece of art to me until I read this book, despite being perfectly lovely on its own. Vermeer knew how to paint light, but would I say the girl portrayed was perfectly beautiful? Without her hair showing, it becomes difficult to tell.

The Plot:
Griet is the eldest daughter of a former tile painter. Her father became blind from a work-related accident, and now she is forced to work as a maid for a painter, Johannes Vermeer, as her brother is working as an unpaid apprentice and they have no other income. Griet becomes increasingly aware of the artist's interest in her, and her role in the house begins to change...

17th century Holland is no place for an impoverished girl, but Griet does fairly well with what she is given. She is rather strong in her own way, unwilling to make being a maid reduce her to the shadows. She's willing to do pretty much anything to make her place in the house easier, even if it means doing tasks she'd rather not do.

Another facet of this book was its take on the Catholics vs. Protestants (two types of Christianity) debacle, and how it separates people in the town. Griet is a Protestant, but the family she's working for is "Papist" (Pope-loving, basically), and so she has a slew of unlikely fears when she comes to work for them. Her original room has a picture of the Crucifixion, which causes her much unrest. Coming from my background (a Protestant who attended the Catholic schools), her horror at it sounds silly, but I can see some historical basis for the tension in the house.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring is an unusually realistic look at the people behind the iconic picture, and how it became what it is today. It's a relatively quick read that gives you a feel for how much work an artist actually had to do to compose a painting, and how little appreciation there was when a painting was finished. If you're interested in art history, this book does a commendable effort to bring a portion of it to light.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for an excellent story behind an enigmatic portrait.

Content: I recall sexual misconduct, but not graphic. Also, Griet enjoys slapping children. Ages 16+.

Page Count: 233 pages in my paperback edition

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel Free to Express Yourself:
Agree? Disagree? Have something to add?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...