Brian Howell's novel, like many of his short stories, evokes a strong sense of time and place. His interest in film, the perspective he has gained while living abroad, and his passion for seventeenth-century Dutch art play a role in his creation of a window to the world that one suspects exists just beyond the edge of Vermeer's paintings.
The first section of the novel follows the development of the young artist, who, at times, one fears will not become the master of the works we view from our point in history. The second section, taken from the secret journal of Balthasar de Monconys, tells of the journalist's brief encounter with Vermeer. Monconys' perspective of the real and the painted Delft and its citizens adds motion and intrigue to the characters Vermeer portrays. The final section centers on a copyist's recreation of a Vermeer painting, the imagined reliving of events in his studio, and the personal drama that provides inspiration for the forger.
Each section of the novel can stand, in a manner, on its own, but there is a thread of technique and action that ties the work together and brings Vermeer's world into our own. When one pays a final visit to Vermeer in the reprise, one has a sense of being reconnected to a world that is part of ours but isn't always visible upon first glance.
Certain paintings have the ability to draw one into other worlds and times. Howell's novel effects a similar pull.