43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2002
Vermeer was a seventeenth-century Delft painter who is known for his uncanny ability to use and capture light. He recorded the simple, yet intimate, activities of daily goings-on with a balance and detail that brought the very breath of life to his paintings. Tracy Chevalier, in Girl With a Pearl Earring, uses this same balance and detail to tell the story of Griet, a sixteen-year old servant girl working in Vermeer's household.
Although strong in both mind and body, Griet comes from a poverty-stricken family. Her father, once a skilled painter of Delft tiles, has been blinded in a kiln explosion. It is the shy and naive Griet who seeks to provide the wages needed for the family's survival. In the Vermeer household, Griet must cope with seemingly endless loads of laundry and meals, five small children and Vermeer's continually-pregnant wife, Catharina. It is her artist's eye, however, that sets her apart from the other servants, for Griet can clean the master's studio without having seemed to have touched a thing.
This book is woven around one of Vermeer's most famous paintings, The Girl With a Pearl Earring. It is a painting that is different from the religious scenes and those of daily life in Delft, so typical of Vermeer. The story is told from the point-of-view of Griet, the eventual model for the painting, rather than Vermeer, and it is filled with a young and fresh look at the daily details of life in 1660s Delft. We learn of the canals and the markets as well as the creation of Vermeer's masterpieces.
Griet's story is a complex one as she struggles to make a real place for herself in the Vermeer household. As a Protestant, she is looked upon with suspicion by most of the members of this Catholic home, but she nevertheless attracts a young suitor who is determined to marry her, as she comes to play a major role in Vermeer's life as a helper who can not only clean his studio and organize his paints, but can actually help him to compose his paintings as well.
The emotional tone of Girl With a Pearl Earring is perfect. Griet is a fully-realized character; a child growing into an adult, with just the right mix of girlish ways and budding maturity. The detail of daily life is also rendered so finely and precisely that we feel we can actually smell the meat halls of Delft, hear the lively bustle of city life and suffer the quiet tragedy of a quarantine.
Chevalier also weaves details from Vermeer's paintings into her story of Griet. The result is a book that is vibrantly alive and lustrously rich. It is an education in art history for those who would otherwise let it pass them by. A tapestry of beauty that pulls the reader in from beginning to end, Girl With a Pearl Earring is a fascinating story and a fascinating look at life in Renaissance Delft that will reward anyone who reads it.
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2001
Author Tracy Chevalier creates a vivid, complete world in 17th-century Delft, Holland, famous for its blue and white pottery and tiles, and home to the painter Johannes Vermeer. The book centers around the subject of one of Vermeer's most enigmatic paintings, and brings to life Griet, the fictional maid-servant of the Vermeer family.
Chevalier describes the household and Griet's life in such vivid detail that one feels one is walking the cobbled streets right next to Griet, and sharing her fears, desires and personal conflicts. Tensions build as we learn how she comes to be the subject of the painting and the denouement is not a disappointment. This novel guides you along a perfect course and the ending is as satisfying as one would hope. Five stars for subject matter, writing style and plot development!
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2003
'Girl with a pearl earring' is a novel based around a painting by Johannes Vermeer, and tells the fictional story of how it was painted. It takes you on an increadible journey to seventeenth-century Holland, to a family running out of money after the man of the house 'looses his trade' in an accident at his work. Being blind he can no longer earn money for his family, and so the eldest daughter, Griet, is sent to work as a maid.
This is when the story takes flight, as Griet comes to terms with working for a Catholic family, herself being protestant, and the strange life her master leads. Her master turns out to be the painter Vermeer, and Griet is drawn into his work in a way that could cost her her job.
Meanwhile there is also the growing romance between her and the butchers' son, which adds another lead for the story to take.
Chevalier paints a vivid picture of what life was like for people like Griet in Holland, although Griet's story is in no way ordinary.
This book is like nothing I have ever read before, and it is so un-put-downable that I read it in a day solidly. It lingers with you for days afterwards, and makes you wish it hadn't ended.
I would recommend this book as strongly as I can. Worth every second you take to read it.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I gave this book to my housebound mother at Christmas, and it has been a highly successful gift. Not only does she find the large print refreshingly easy to read, but the story itself is surprisingly gripping. The story of Griet, going as a maid to the house of Vermeer in 1660's Delft, the tale of how she ends up sitting as a model for the artist, and the domestic intrigue rife in the house fascinate the reader. It seems an old fashioned tale, in which no murders or adulteries are committed - which does not mean, of course, that they are not considered! - and the vivid picture of 17th century life in Holland, moving from the backstreet slums of the tile painters streets to the wealthier areas of where the artist lives, are realistic and vivid. I recommend the novel to all, and my mother recommends the large print to those, like her, who find it hard to see, even with glasses.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2004
Tracy Chevalier has written an absolute corker of a novel. What wonderful imagination to take the subject of a painting and then to create a whole story around it.
Griet, the main character is somebody you warm to straight away although her physical attributes are cleverly understated. You learn only that she has wide set eyes and that her best feature - her hair is always covered up. Tracy Chevalier's writing though makes you realise that it's the fibre of Griet - her personality, her thoughts and her slightly daring approach to life as a maid in the 1600's - that makes her so appealing.
Vermeer is painted (excuse the pun) as a rather selfish man, focused on entirely his own needs. He scarecly seems to notice his eleven children or indeed his own wife. However the subtle yet compelling relationship that develops between Griet and Vermeer does seem to change him as a man and has a long-term impact on his life.
Whilst I had no idea of what Holland was like in the 1600's Tracy Chevalier creates a beautifully descriptive backdrop for the main story and the cast of supporting characters is great. The vain spoilt wife, the worldly-wise mother-in-law, the sly and troublesome daughter Cornelia and the lecherous old patron add a delicious humour and realism to the story of what it must have been like to be a part of life then.
For anyone wanting something to really relax into, but something that will keep you hooked, this is a great read.
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
This gifted author weaves a mesmerizing tale around Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer's most famous painting, creating an incandescent and luminous work of her own. His painting is a simple, though enigmatic, portrait of a girl with a pearl earring, about which little is known. The author, however, a born storyteller, creates a living, breathing story around it, using a singular, first person narrative. Told in spare, elegant prose, the author leaps into literary renown with this book.
The events in the book are viewed through the eyes of Griet, a sixteen year old Dutch girl, whose changed family circumstances force her into taking a position as a maid in the home of a renowned painter, the taciturn Johannes Vermeer. There, the painter resides with his tempestuous wife, Catharina, their brood of unruly children, his commanding and shrewd mother-in-law, Maria Thins, and their loyal housekeeper and cook, Tanneke. The author lovingly details seventeenth century life in the Dutch city of Delft. It is here that Griet's story unfolds.
Sensitive and perceptive, Griet is attuned to the under currents in the Vermeer household and, at first, takes care not to draw attention to herself. Still, she, the daughter of a tile painter, is curious about Vermeer's artistry and is drawn to his work and his methods. Vermeer, sensing a kindred artistic spirit in Griet, draws her into his world of paint, color, light, and beauty, creating an intimacy of the spirit between the two.
Still, Griet, a girl on the brink of becoming a woman, finds herself confused and breathlessly desiring more than she may have. Her longing for more than a communion of the spirit with Vermeer is palpable. It is, therefore, not surprising that the undercurrents in the Vermeer household should come bubbling to the surface and engulf Griet, much to her consternation.
This is a stunning literary work that fully realizes the promise that the author showed in her debut novel, "The Virgin Blue". She is an author that understands the less is often more, and she makes every word count. Deliberate and spare, her prose is lyrical in its simplicity, weaving a tale that will keep the reader spellbound. This is historical fiction at its finest. Bravo!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2004
Art historians have called Jan Vermeer's painting "Girl With A Pearl Earring", the "Mona Lisa of the North". Painted in the 1660's in Delft, Holland, the young woman in the portrait gazes at the viewer with a look that defies definite description. Does the over the shoulder pose indicate surprise or expectation? Do the slightly parted lips show flirtation or longing? Are the wide blue eyes innocent or knowing? The feelings of the young woman captured on canvas 350 years ago are a seductive mystery.
Author, Tracy Chevalier, has skillfully taken the questions evoked in the painting and has created a story in response. The fictive heroine is Griet, a 16 year old girl of the working classes. Her father, once a painter of the blue and white Delft tiles has been blinded in an accident impoverishing the family. Griet's mother has arranged for Griet to work as a servant in the large but chaotic home of the painter Vermeer. While the Vermeers appear wealthy to Griet, the situation is actually one of genteel poverty exacerbated by the fecundity of Vermeer's shrewish wife. Griet tries to be invisible to Vermeer's crafty mother-in-law, the Vermeer's long-suffering older serving woman and the blooming litter of Vermeer children. But her beauty does not escape the eye of the painter.
The reader is drawn into the life of 17th century Delft through the historical authenticity of the scenes painted with words. Vermeer's other paintings are beautifully described as he creates them and I found it enjoyable to supplement this novel by simultaneously looking through a colorplate book of Vermeer's paintings.
Griet thinks in terms of color and light. She is precise and ordered in cleaning the studio of the painter. They are a match in everything but class. Separated by the barriers of class and Vermeer's marriage, the love making in this story takes place in oil on canvas. It is as quiet and reserved as are these people of the north.
Griet must fulfill her feelings with Pieter, the noisy butcher's son. The author contrasts the ordered and quiet Vermeer with the boisterous and bloody butcher, Pieter. Griet is caught between two worlds and two men. She is captured in one world on canvas and in another world entirely in reality.
This is a novel as luminous as its subject. A love story as a still life. This book is totally engrossing, beautifully written and unforgettable. Don't miss it! Another little-known novel I recommend is: The Losers' Club by Richard Perez, which I purchased off Amazon.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2005
This book is so special. The story is told from a poor and unbelievably modest maid's point of view, describing her thoughts and feelings about beginning work at 16 in a grand house alongside other maids who prove themselves to be jealous and conniving. She soon becomes a 'favourite' of the master of the house, a talented painter, and helps him grind colours for his work, much to the disgust of the other members of the household. Then the master paints her, causing an uproar.
A highly recommended, beautiful story.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2004
This is not the sort of book I would normally read, but I was intrigued by the story with all the hype surrounding the film at present, so I decided to read it and judge for myself.
Boy, am I glad I did! This novel is not just a gripping tale, or romantic book, or semi-historical fiction - it makes you care in ways that other books just dont. I really cared about Griet and felt her pain, frustration, love, desire, and intelligence. 'The master' Vermeer is a mystery as he should be and his relationship with Griet is no less mysterious.
A cracking good read and put aside your prejudices, distaste of romantic, womens books, and just enjoy a good read with no pretensions.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The audio cassette version of Girl With a Pearl Earring:
The fictional story behind Vermeer's famous painting revolves around sixteen-year old Griet, who becomes a maid in the artist's home to help her struggling family. She is a quiet, intelligent girl, fully aware of her rather helpless situation: She must do the hardest work from morning til night without sympathy or kindness in the cold house. She does, however, greatly admire the elusive Vermeer, and to her shock and secret joy, he asks her one day to be his model for a painting. She must also contend with the unwanted attentions of Vermeer's wealthy patron, and is unsure of her feelings for the amorous young butcher.
Since the uneducated Griet is the story's narrator, author Chevalier has written in a very simple, uncluttered style: There are virtually no compound sentences, few adjectives, and even fewer words describing emotions. This is because Griet's lot in life is to serve; it makes no difference how she feels about people, events, or tasks, so she doesn't dwell on them.
Griet never refers to Vermeer by name; he is always "The Master," or simply "Him." While a bit of an affectation on the part of the author, it reflects Griet's view of him as bigger than life; godlike. She never puts into words her feelings for him, nor does he for her; indeed people at that time kept their thoughts to themselves. We learn little about Vermeer, except that he took scant notice of his homelife, which was rife with conflict between the mistress, servants, and children. The last chapter was the most intense and was indeed a satisfying end to Griet's story.
Narrator Ruth Ann Phimister's voice is low and sounds too mature to be speaking the words of a sixteen-year old. However, she does convey Griet's pluckiness as well as her constant fatigue. While we don't learn about Vermeer, the story does gives us a glimpse into Dutch society in 1665. It is a quiet story.