Girl with a Pearl Earring
is the story of Griet, the fictional maid (as nobody knows who the model was) who appears in Girl with a Pearl Earring
, a superb painting by Johannes Vermeer.
This is the only book by Tracy Chevalier that I've read and didn't know what to expect before I started it. Definitely, I didn't expect the delicate prose that ensued. Griet is depicted as a reserved girl in her way to womanhood, with an acute artistic perception of her world and very aware of her own position in seventeenth century Delft society. Stepping out for the first time from a sheltering Protestant family into the unknown world of a Christian painter and his huge family, Griet doesn't question her position as a maid but can't help feeling fascinated by a life she's not meant to lead - particularly by the paintings, the colours and Vermeer himself. At the same time, she has to deflect the attentions of the rude patron and of the kind butcher boy, while remaining chaste and pure, specially in the eyes of her neighbours. Nothing of this is boldly stated anywhere in the novel, though. And that's the best part about it: its subtlety. Girl with a Pearl Earring
is so quiet and intimate and subtle that I thought it couldn't have been written by a man. The characters are really complex. I actually felt a quiet sadness for them while reading it.Girl with a Pearl Earring
has many other merits, too: the setting is very well achieved, the paintings are wonderfully described and it makes the reader curious about Vermeer and the painting process. And, although I usually dislike first person narrative, I enjoyed it fully this time.
“He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face.”