Madeleine's Reviews > Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
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Aug 29, 13

bookshelves: peer-pressure, 2011, tooting-my-own-muted-horn, blogophilia
Read from December 13 to 16, 2011

So the parts when Vermeer was actually being a painter were interesting. Seeing as I slogged through this on account of a recommendation that arose from an art-class lecture on Vermeer, I was hoping that the art stuff would at least deliver.

But it's not a good sign when a book's most compelling moments revolve around two people grinding pigments. And, no: "Grinding pigments" is not a euphemism for artist-bangin'. It is, quite literally, referring to the detailed descriptions of how paint was made in the days before those fancy metal tubes replaced pig bladders as the paint-storing vessels of choice.

This was the most predictable book I've read in a while, and that includes the two graphic-novel series that are simply retelling stories I know well in a new medium. I knew exactly where the plot was going within the book's first dozen pages. Every subsequent thread was introduced with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the writerly finesse of a 14-year-old's first attempt at fanfiction.

It was also pretty obvious what stereotype everyone was going to play from his or her very first appearance. There really isn't a multi-dimensional character in this book. I understand that the first-person voice is a limited perspective by its nature, and I would write it off as just that if the peripheral characters were the only flat archetypes, but even the narrator doesn't carry any convincing weight. Griet is the protagonist because she's the main character. And because all of the characters with whom she has scuffles are inexplicably bitchy. Not giving characters any real motivations, not making them behave and interact believably, and generally preferring to tell rather than show all contributed to making this whole book feel sloppy, underdeveloped and rushed. If "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was maybe 200 more pages of really hammering out the story and its players, maybe then it'd be a more satisfying read. At least it's mercifully quick and mostly painless at its current length.

I say "mostly painless" because there are some groan-worthy lines showcased here: While more pages would have maybe benefited the plot, there is nothing -- save for a control-freak editor -- that could have improved the prose itself. I could not get past the clunky writing. It didn't take me long to get violently annoyed by the author's fondness for hitting the reader over the head with the most obvious attempts at subtle foreshadowing by way of forcing too much weight on these flimsy, laughably ominous one-sentence paragraphs. There were numerous other technical things that kept grating on me about the writing and its myriad shortcomings. Among them: Griet saying things like "I always regretted that decision" to indicate that she's looking back on a time that is very clearly written as the present; not one character shows any development throughout the novel; sixteen-year-old Griet, the daughter of a tile painter, somehow knows more about painting and composition than Vermeer, a professional artist who actually managed to garner some fame during his living years.

Even when the book pissed me off (which was often), I will admit that I never found Griet herself to be irritating (maybe because I kept fantasizing about Scarlett Johansson to save my brain from oozing through my ears?) -- but I was irked at how it felt like Chevalier was Mary Sue-ing her way through the character. The way that every man whom Griet encountered in the whole! damn! book! fawned over and flirted with her, the way she was presented as being uneducated but naturally clever just because she sometimes spoke her mind and separated her chopped veggies by color, the way Griet's family was painted as these simple, sheltered little Protestants who knew nothing of the world around them.... there was far too much black-or-white for me to take anything about the book seriously.

I don't care enough to write about this book any more. So. Every other gripe I have notwithstanding, here are three of the book's most glaring failures:

-- Vermeer, for being the central male character, remains an enigma. It's not that he's shrouded in an air of charming mystery but rather that his personality is nothing more than a bunch of suppositions that Griet "just knows" about him.

-- Griet does not ever refer to Vermeer as anything other than "he" or "him". Not. Once. It made her sound like a starstruck teenybopper and it undermined any sense of genuine affection between the painter and his maid.

-- The similes. Oh, dear sweet Baby Jesus, the similes. I now know that I have a limited tolerance for the number of trite comparisons of faces and voices to household objects that I encounter in one novel, all thanks to the time I spent reading this book.
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Reading Progress

12/14/2011 page 64
27.0%
12/15/2011 page 119
51.0% "I think this book is averaging three similes a page."
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Aja (new)

Aja Haha! Love the review. Have you seen the movie?


Madeleine Thanks, Aja! It seems like I have more fun with the "meh" reviews than I do when I love a book.

Despite my eternal girl-crush on ScarJo, I actually have not seen the movie. Have you? Is it any good? I feel like this is one of those times that the film adaptation might stand a chance of being better than the book.


message 3: by Aja (new)

Aja I liked the movie. It's still kind of meh, but two words: Colin Firth. Plus ScarJo is very pretty and does a great job. You should watch it as a treat after having read this book!!


message 4: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell I slogged through this on account of a recommendation that arose from an art-class lecture on Vermeer

Ohhh dear. I have Girl in Hyacinth Blue, but don't know if it's any good or not. I think Vermeer: A View of Delft and Girl in a Turban are supposed to be pretty good. Maybe.


Madeleine Aja wrote: "I liked the movie. It's still kind of meh, but two words: Colin Firth. Plus ScarJo is very pretty and does a great job. You should watch it as a treat after having read this book!!"

DUDE. Colin Firth is one of my favorite ways of treating myself! How did you know?


Madeleine Moira wrote: "Ohhh dear. I have Girl in Hyacinth Blue, but don't know if it's any good or not. I think Vermeer: A View of Delft and Girl in a Turban are supposed to be pretty good. Maybe."
Godspeed, friendly stranger. While this was neither an entirely unreadable book nor completely devoid of any merit, I'm much more wary of art-conjecture novels now. Perhaps sampling other writers' takes on the idea is the way to go with this genre.


message 7: by Martha (new)

Martha I love your review, Madeleine, especially the "grinding pigments"! You are hilarious!


Madeleine Martha wrote: "I love your review, Madeleine, especially the "grinding pigments"! You are hilarious!"

Thanks! I think this is the first negative review I'd ever written so I tried to soften the blow with giggles.


message 9: by Meenakshi (new)

Meenakshi "And, no: "Grinding pigments" is not a euphemism for artist-bangin'."

Haha, Amazing review, Madeleine.


message 10: by Sue (new)

Sue I haven't read this partly because of my continuing aversion to best sellers. I did start it once and remember some grinding of pigments. Just couldn't get interested enough to continue. Your review is great and your humor a pleasure.


Madeleine Meenakshi wrote: ""And, no: "Grinding pigments" is not a euphemism for artist-bangin'."

Haha, Amazing review, Madeleine."


Thank you, Meenakshi! It is always good to hear from you, and not just because you always have such kind things to say. :)


Madeleine Sue wrote: "I haven't read this partly because of my continuing aversion to best sellers. I did start it once and remember some grinding of pigments. Just couldn't get interested enough to continue. Your revie..."

Thanks for all of this, Sue! I'm relieved this review came off as more humorous than self-righteous.

Yeah, I totally understand your bestseller aversion. The public seems to latch onto something good every now and again, but... you know, something about broken clocks being fleetingly right and all.

It's been a few years since I read this but I do recall a feeling of unyielding disinterest accompanying my stubborn insistence to finish this book. I understand why people enjoy it, I swear I do, but it was just not all my taste. Thank you for making me feel better about not liking this book. :)


message 13: by Sue (last edited Jul 15, 2013 06:59PM) (new)

Sue Madeleine wrote: "Sue wrote: "I haven't read this partly because of my continuing aversion to best sellers. I did start it once and remember some grinding of pigments. Just couldn't get interested enough to continue..."

It is funny isn't it when one feels bad about not liking a very popular book. I've been there. Often I avoid very popular books altogether (which is why I was 10 years late for An Instance of the Fingerpost). I usually don't finish books if I can't get involved in them, but I truly respect the way you continued on and then provided us with this wonder of a review.

Glad I could bring some happiness your way as you do for me. :o)


message 14: by Steve (new)

Steve I like how you breathe life into a review of a ho-hum, predictable, 2-star book. Thanks for the warning, Madeleine, even though I was never tempted before this either.


message 15: by Jim (new)

Jim Now if the author had said "grinding pigs" - that would be another matter altogether. I suggest you pull some of the groan-worthiest lines and put them in your review.


Sonia I am only half way through the book, but I feel exactly the same way. I also tried to put Scarlet Johansson in the picture to save my brain from oozing). I am really frustrated with the lack of character development in this novel. I want to know more about the people that surround Griet's life, but they remain a mystery. I cannot understand Vermeer's motivation to use her as an assistant, how he feels about her, his wife and children. This book is like a blend painting, very frustrating.


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