Book Review: ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Tracy Chevalier

Posted: 9 May 2016 in Book reviews
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Set in the dutch town of Delft, 16-year old Griet is forced to become a maid for the painter Johannes Vermeer after an accident blinds her father. She is not very happy about it, but as a responsible daughter does it because her family needs her to.

Life at the Vermeer’s was challenging. For starters, they are Catholics and her family is Protestant. She is surrounded by Catholic artwork, which makes her uncomfortable. That’s only the beginning. There’s the conflict she tries to avoid between her and the other maid Tanneke not to mention dealing with the conniving daughter Cornelia. Her main responsibilities are helping with the children, picking up the meat and fish, and cleaning Johannes’s studio (which his wife and Tanneke are not allowed in).

When Vermeer recognises her artistic affinity, he begins giving her more responsibility in his studio. She has to somehow fit in his needs within her current household chores. Her assistance makes Vermeer’s wife, and Tanneke, jealous, causing Griet more issues. Then she receives the attention of the family’s butcher’s son, Pieter, as well as nobleman van Ruijven. Her family pushes the relationship with Pieter. For a time life is good and she is able to balance her responsibilities and life. Van Ruijven disrupts her happiness when he insists on sitting with her for a painting. It is known that the last girl he sat with ended up pregnant and Griet refuses outright. But as a maid, she really has no choice. Vermeer swing things so she is painted alone and she relents. The painting progresses and turns out better then she imagined. But then he asks something of her, something she doesn’t feel good about. When it is discovered, her life is changed forever.

My Thoughts

Like many of the books I have read, this one I saw in film format first many years ago. I really enjoyed the film. Only now have I finally gotten around to reading the book. It was very good, but to call this a fun read would almost feel like an insult. It was engaging and intriguing.

The story was very fascinating. Most books that I’ve read don’t have religion as such a major theme within them. But being that this story is a historical drama, I guess it really shouldn’t be that surprising. The story felt very well researched as well. The imagery of Delft, the history of Vermeer and his artwork, and the culture, attitudes, and history of the townsfolk are clearly understood and adequately portrayed.

What I liked about Griet as a character is that she was forced to expand herself as a human being. Had she not been Vermeer’s maid, she likely would never have attempted any interaction with anyone catholic. That is how life is for too many people in the world. They never get to know other people unless thrust outside of their comfortable worlds. When we look at the state of the world and the issues that plague mankind, many of them would be resolved if only people actually got to know and understand each other. That is what happened to Griet. In my opinion, her life was much better for it. Another thing I liked about her was that she rarely deviated from what she perceived as right or proper. She didn’t feel ready for marriage so she didn’t go forward with it like others wanted her to. She is a good character with a seemingly solid moral character, but with the ability to learn and grow.

I personally liked the writing. It was a very different style from what I typically read. In the beginning, it slightly bothered me, but soon I got the hang of the flow. The writing really adds to the historical nature of the novel. It is a fairly archaic style and it works wonderfully. There is plenty of good description and a nice balance of story and dialogue.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I liked the insight into a different era. It is pretty easy to see why this book is popular all over the world. If you like historical fiction, then this is definitely something you will like. Enjoy 😉

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  1. Nice review! I love this writer. Her writing is so evocative. Bronte


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