Sunday, 19 June 2011

Girl With a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier

This book was lent to me by my friend, Tijana who when I went out with her for the Malorie Blackman signing, gave me this list of books to read in return for some recommendations of my own and looking at Patrick Ness' website constantly to see if he comes to London or anywhere near us.
Next day, she turns up with a paper bag full of books. This one wasn't included but when I went to her birthday celebration, she shoved this in my hand and demanded I read it. So, I kind of had to.
 I have wanted to know the story, after hearing about the film with Colin Firth in, although I haven't seen it. But I have never had the chance to actually read it, hence by lack of protests when this was shown in my direction. And in truth. SO GLAD I DID!

Synopsis: The book focuses on the household and family of the painter, Johannes Vermeer, who painted 35 paintings in the 1600's. It follows the year in which Griet, a very young maid with a poor family, worked at the house for (around 2 years) and her relationships with the members of the family and her sudden attraction to the paintings her master paints. Slowly, she becomes involved in the small world of beautiful clothes and jewellery and the whimsical worlds of the paintings.

A lot of us know at least the painting of 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' if not at least the painter, Vermeer. As far as I know, this is probably up there on the 'Most famous paintings' list with the Mona Lisa.
This is such a compelling story. It is so intriguing and entertaining even to find out and discover the world that Vermeer painted in and ultimately the story behind the painting.
It's unclear if this is the real or theory of the story behind it or literally from Tracy Chevalier's imagination and her story of the kind of tale behind the portrait. In a way that is good, it leaves it up to the reader to believe the story or not but in a way, I kind of really want to know the person in the painting.

I loved this book a lot. The writing was so lovely and easy to read and even though it is said to be an Adult books, it could easily be Young Adult too and something I could see on the selves of the Teenage section in Waterstones. I really liked Griet as a voice and she began really interesting to see her life and the way poorer people were treated at that time. Also, it was nice to have the poorer servant as the voice instead Vermeer himself, it was better and added much more mystery to Vermeer's character - you don't actually find out a lot about him really as he only appears ever so often and becomes a kind of mysterious, anticipating figure, much like how Griet sees him. The reader does become a little like Griet as it is told in the first person.

I feel so much for Griet from the beginning and winced at the insults thrown at her, got angry at the behaviour of the other members of the household and happy whenever Vermeer took her side. The other characters were so interesting and complete different from each other. There is quite a fair amount of characters involved but they are all different and unalike with their own stories and relationships. I liked that.
Girl with a Pearl Earring -
Johannes Vermeer (1665)
The one character that did get on my nerves: Cornelia, Vermeer's 7 year-old daughter who makes Griet's like hell. I don't know if it was different in those days but she seems too old, too mature, too much of everything to be that age to me. It maybe done on purpose but it made her more annoying for me and I didn't get why she was doing it to Griet and not the other maid, Tanneke. I just didn't understand her motives.

What I did like was the fact that there is a story behind about 9 of Vermeer's paintings and does give an insight into his world that we know so little about. It was interesting to have the historical setting in The Netherlands instead of the usual place of England or America.
 The book is also obviously researched thoroughly as after looking up Vermeer on Google, a lot of the facts that came up featured in the book such as where they lived, Catholicism and the names of the family and some of the events that happened. You can also tell this from actually reading the book too, with some odd, old fashioned names mentioned, as well as Dutch names, although it is made obvious what it actually is. Tracy Chevalier shows clearly she has a deep passion for Vermeer's work and paintings like the main one.

I also LOVED the ending. It kind of ends suddenly, then you turn the page and find yourself 10 years later. It's nice to know Griet's life after and how it turns out as well as the families and especially the painting. It was a lovely end to this novel that again makes you think a little.

This is one I think a lot of people would enjoy, especially if they are into historical fiction or have seen this film. Personally I haven't but after reading, would like to see it to make the difference. It's sad in a way that we know so little about the lives in that era of this famous painter but this book does transport you to a world where the tiniest thing counts for your future life or job.
A great little read which really opens your eyes a little bit and appreciate the art around us like Vermeer who had struggled with his finances at the time, although now would sell for millions.
Girl with a Pearl Earring is on show at the Mauritshuis, The Hague

I give it 4.5 out of 5

Author's Website:
Pages: 248
Publisher: Harper Collins
Challenges: Historical Fiction


  1. I really want to read this book! Heard so many good things about it! :)

  2. I loved this book, and the movie is pretty fantastic also. Only problem is that the movies ending is completely different, good to know that you enjoyed it too :)

  3. Amy: YES! Read it! It's good. I've seen a few around in charity shops as it's quite an old book, try there maybe?

    Bluisegal: oh really? that's annoying, I liked the end of the book a lot. Yeah I need to get my hands on the movie now :S

  4. A breath taking story of awakening of the senses...this is the typical book that once you start reading is hard to put simply want more and more and more and you keep reading on until there is no more to is a book that transfers you in actually land in 17th century Johannes Vermeer's city of Delft as soon as the first chapter begins and from there on you are magically drawn into the story line until you are no more and until You become the Girl with the Pearl Earring, feeling the same emotions going thru your spine, hearing the same sounds she does when she goes to the market, feeling the same smells, even experiencing the same feelings of sensuality and sexuality as the men in her life are magically drawn towards her powerful flame.

  5. i just finished this book. You describe it so vividly and accurately. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a little bit of "history" mixed in with a story.


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