Monday, June 24, 2013

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Book: Girl With A Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier

Review: When Griet's father is blinded in an accident, she is forced to work as a maid for Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer and his family. Griet navigates diverse personalities in the household and ends up secretly assisting Vermeer in his artist endeavors.

While I'm not an art history buff, I love historical fiction and was really interested to see how Chevalier created a backstory that explains Vermeer's famous painting. The back of this book says it's a 'sensual awakening' and I was hoping for an illicit affair between Griet and Vermeer.  Although well written, this book is slowly and boring. I kept reading and reading waiting for something to happen...and not much happens. We learn in detail about Griet's daily work as a maid, there is some discussion regarding religious tensions (Griet is a Protestant living in a Catholic household) and most of all-we learn how wonderful Griet is. She is good at apparently everything she does. She knows how to cook better than the cook, she can get the stains out of the laundry better than anyone, she picks the best meat at the market, she is the only person that can clean the studio without disrupting anything and she is so beautiful every male that isn't related to her seems to be smitten with her. I could have dealt with all of that 'fabulousness' if she also didn't happen to give painting tips to Vermeer and comment that she knew what needed to be fixed in his paintings before he did. That was a little over the top. Griet was also the voice of this book but she was very self contained. She experiences a lot of firsts in this book (first kiss, first time a male sees her hair, loses her virginity) but she never really explores this situations. I think there was a lot of lost potential. 

In terms of the secondary characters in this book, we didn't spend enough time with Griet's family to really care about them. When the plague hits and a member perishes, I should have felt sad but I couldn't muster up any feelings. While Vermeer himself was mostly a shadow in this book with very little dialogue, his family was mostly one dimensional. We have the shrill wife who is jealous of Griet, the good daughter, the evil daughter (who was pretty evil for a 6 year old) and the jealous cook. The exception was my favorite character in the entire book, Vermeer's mother in law, Maria Thins. She runs the household behind the scenes and assists Griet in several ways. 

Rereading my review, it may seem like I hated the book. That isn't the case. I did like it, I just think it had a lot more potential. I wish it ended with Griet leaving the house standing at the crossroads and the readers are left to determine where she ends up. The final scene ***spoiler alert** with Vermeer leaving her the pearl earrings after his death didn't seem plausible. It was my impression that his feelings for her were related to an artistic sense, he wasn't in love with 'Griet the person.' He also seemed dedicated to his family and had to know there were in dire financial straits. Why would he leave valuable jewelry (which belonged to his wife I might add) a maid that had left years before? I'm guessing we are to surmise he really did love Griet but I don't think it fit in with the story.

Grade: 3/5

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