30/11/2002

Girl with a Pearl Earring (by Tracy Chevalier)

For some reason I had not come across Tracy Chevalier before. A relative was given this book, and loved it so much that she lent it to me, sure I would also enjoy it.

'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is a historical novel loosely based on the life of the (real) painter Vermeer, inspired by one of his famous paintings. Not that I had come across that either, before reading this book, but then I'm not a huge fan of art.

Griet, aged 16, goes to work in Vermeer's household as a maid. She needs to earn money to help her family, because her father has had a nasty accident, and can no longer work.

As well as being kitchen maid, Griet begins to clean Vermeer's studio. He observes her, and realises that she is careful and has an artistic eye. So he gradually gives her more to do, eventually choosing her as the model for his famous painting.

Meanwhile, Griet's family suffer extreme poverty, and Griet is courted by Pieter, who is the son of their butcher.

I found the book a bit over-detailed in places, and didn't really warm to any of the characters. However it was very readable, and quite believable. It gave a good understanding of the culture of the time, and the vast difference between the poor and even those just comfortably off.

I thought the ending was well done and reasonably satisfying; it was natural and perhaps the only one that wuold have worked.

I don't rave about the book; perhaps I'm too much of a philistine. I thought it was a pleasant light read, but nothing special. Still, I thought the blend of fact and fiction worked extremely well, and had no idea where one began and the other ended. Certainly worth reading if you know of the 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' painting.

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