Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl Earring

With precisely 35 canvases to his credit, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer represents one of the great enigmas of 17th-century art. The meager facts of his biography have been gleaned from a handful of legal documents. Yet Vermeer's extraordinary paintings of domestic life, with their subtle play of light and texture, have come to define the Dutch golden age. His portrai...

Title:Girl with a Pearl Earring
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0452287022
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:233 pages

Girl with a Pearl Earring Reviews

  • Daniel

    Another one of my wife's recommendations (I read a lot of books that way), I picked it up from the bookshelf the night we came back from seeing the film with Scarlett Johansonn and Colin Firth. I loved the movie--it was just so incredibly sumptuous--and was curious to know the story in the novel, which I knew from experience, and from my wife's continuous comments, would be different, more detailed. I was right.

    Chevalier has won a place in my heart and bookshelf. Her novels are well-crafted, sim

    Another one of my wife's recommendations (I read a lot of books that way), I picked it up from the bookshelf the night we came back from seeing the film with Scarlett Johansonn and Colin Firth. I loved the movie--it was just so incredibly sumptuous--and was curious to know the story in the novel, which I knew from experience, and from my wife's continuous comments, would be different, more detailed. I was right.

    Chevalier has won a place in my heart and bookshelf. Her novels are well-crafted, simple to follow, and addictive; Girl was no exception. The story of the maid Griet in 1600's Delft, Holland, was amazing in its simple prose and endless emotion. Completely fictional (no one knows who exactly were the models for any of Vermeer's paintings), it nonetheless possesses a veracity that makes you believe Chevalier found the long-lost journal of this unknown woman and wrote her novel based on it. The details of seventeen century Holland are rich; you feel you are walking the canal-lined streets of Delft, smelling the pungent scents of the Meat Market, holding your breath as Vermeer paints next to you. Griet is a wonderful protagonist, taking you into her world, yet retaining a few secrets for herself, especially where Vermeer is concerned.

    Girl is one of those novels that truly invites you, and almost kidnaps you, to become part of the story, to walk next to the characters, to share in their lives, to feel as they feel. Watch the movie, by all means (the photography is absolutely incredible), but then read the novel and get the whole story. You will not be disappointed.

  • Kate

    I know almost nothing about art, but even I can tell that Girl With a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer is a brilliant painting; 'captivating' is probably the best word to describe it. One presumes that Chevalier agrees with me, and this is what lead her to write a novel about the painting, its subject and its creator. So, is the novel as captivating as the piece that inspired it?

    The short answer would be 'no'.

    Now for the longer answer...

    Chevalier is probably one of the best-known historical nov

    I know almost nothing about art, but even I can tell that Girl With a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer is a brilliant painting; 'captivating' is probably the best word to describe it. One presumes that Chevalier agrees with me, and this is what lead her to write a novel about the painting, its subject and its creator. So, is the novel as captivating as the piece that inspired it?

    The short answer would be 'no'.

    Now for the longer answer...

    Chevalier is probably one of the best-known historical novelists of the last ten years, with this book always in the foreground when she is discussed. As far as historical information goes, I think she does okay with it. I had a pretty clear picture of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century by the time I was done with the book (whether or not its accurate or not is another matter), but I felt at times that there wasn't that detail that critics proclaimed about on the cover.

    The characters, I feel, are never truly developed. Vermeer himself remains a mystery throughout, even to the protagonist and narrator, Griet, who appears to have some connection with him. Griet meanwhile, is what I would describe as a stock teenage girl character. She is similar to many characters I've read before, and yet she does not really advance on that.

    The narrative style is one that I would have adored at 14, but by now find to be pedestrian. This is first person narrative at its simplest (and blandest) and I don't feel that we gain anything from it - the novel may just as well have been in third person and would not have suffered for it. It may even have benefited from it.

    The structure is interesting. Split into parts that represent years, rather than having chapter breaks makes it difficult to find a stopping place at times, and it is this more than anything else that makes a page turner of the novel. Meanwhile, the entire thing seems to be building to the inevitable moment when Vermeer will paint Griet. The scenes are handled with less intensity than I had hoped for from the build up, and once the painting is finished, Chevalier seems to want nothing but for the novel to be over too, and closes it down rather too quickly.

    Perhaps the fact that little is known about Vermeer's life would imply that a fictional version of it would be easy to tell. Sadly, the gaps in knowledge seem to be too big to fill.

    At the end of the novel, I had discovered how this work came about, the girl staring out from it, but still had almost no real idea of the man behind it. It is, in my opinion, a failure in this respect.

    However, it is a good read if you're looking for something historical but not too heavy. Or if you like art there are some interesting discussions about colour in there. I can see why many people enjoy this novel, but I cannot fathom why some hold it in such high acclaim. I feel it will be some time before I read anything else by Tracy Chevalier.

  • Madeleine

    So the parts when Vermeer was actually being a painter were interesting. Seeing as I slogged through this on account of a recommendation that arose from an art-class lecture on Vermeer, I was hoping that the art stuff would at least deliver.

    But it's not a good sign when a book's most compelling moments revolve around two people grinding pigments. And, no: "Grinding pigments" is not a euphemism for artist-bangin'. It is, quite literally, referring to the detailed descriptions of how paint was ma

    So the parts when Vermeer was actually being a painter were interesting. Seeing as I slogged through this on account of a recommendation that arose from an art-class lecture on Vermeer, I was hoping that the art stuff would at least deliver.

    But it's not a good sign when a book's most compelling moments revolve around two people grinding pigments. And, no: "Grinding pigments" is not a euphemism for artist-bangin'. It is, quite literally, referring to the detailed descriptions of how paint was made in the days before those fancy metal tubes replaced pig bladders as the paint-storing vessels of choice.

    This was the most predictable book I've read in a while, and that includes the two graphic-novel series that are simply retelling stories I know well in a new medium. I knew exactly where the plot was going within the book's first dozen pages. Every subsequent thread was introduced with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the writerly finesse of a 14-year-old's first attempt at fanfiction.

    It was also pretty obvious what stereotype everyone was going to play from his or her very first appearance. There really isn't a multi-dimensional character in this book. I understand that the first-person voice is a limited perspective by its nature, and I would write it off as just that if the peripheral characters were the only flat archetypes, but even the narrator doesn't carry any convincing weight. Griet is the protagonist because she's the main character. And because all of the characters with whom she has scuffles are inexplicably bitchy. Not giving characters any real motivations, not making them behave and interact believably, and generally preferring to tell rather than show all contributed to making this whole book feel sloppy, underdeveloped and rushed. If "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was maybe 200 more pages of really hammering out the story and its players, maybe then it'd be a more satisfying read. At least it's mercifully quick and mostly painless at its current length.

    I say "mostly painless" because there are some groan-worthy lines showcased here: While more pages would have maybe benefited the plot, there is

    -- save for a control-freak editor -- that could have improved the prose itself. I could not get past the clunky writing. It didn't take me long to get violently annoyed by the author's fondness for hitting the reader over the head with the most obvious attempts at subtle foreshadowing by way of forcing too much weight on these flimsy, laughably ominous one-sentence paragraphs. There were numerous other technical things that kept grating on me about the writing and its myriad shortcomings. Among them: Griet saying things like "I always regretted that decision" to indicate that she's looking back on a time that is very clearly written as the present; not one character shows any development throughout the novel; sixteen-year-old Griet, the daughter of a tile painter, somehow knows more about painting and composition than Vermeer, a professional artist who actually managed to garner some fame during his living years.

    Even when the book pissed me off (which was often), I will admit that I never found Griet herself to be irritating (maybe because I kept fantasizing about Scarlett Johansson to save my brain from oozing through my ears?) -- but I was irked at how it felt like Chevalier was Mary Sue-ing her way through the character. The way that every man whom Griet encountered in the whole! damn! book! fawned over and flirted with her, the way she was presented as being uneducated but naturally clever just because she sometimes spoke her mind and separated her chopped veggies by color, the way Griet's family was painted as these simple, sheltered little Protestants who knew nothing of the world around them.... there was far too much black-or-white for me to take anything about the book seriously.

    I don't care enough to write about this book any more. So. Every other gripe I have notwithstanding, here are three of the book's most glaring failures:

    -- Vermeer, for being the central male character, remains an enigma. It's not that he's shrouded in an air of charming mystery but rather that his personality is nothing more than a bunch of suppositions that Griet "just knows" about him.

    --

    . Not. Once. It made her sound like a starstruck teenybopper and it undermined any sense of genuine affection between the painter and his maid.

    -- The similes. Oh, dear sweet Baby Jesus, the similes. I now know that I have a limited tolerance for the number of trite comparisons of faces and voices to household objects that I encounter in one novel, all thanks to the time I spent reading this book.

  • Jason Koivu

    I CAN'T SHOUT "

    " LOUD ENOUGH!!!

    The popular fame obtained by this book and its subsequent movie version starring Scarlett Johansson...

    *two hours later*

    (Sorry, I was daydreaming)...had me expecting a tumultuous romance, a grab-ya and hold-ya reading experience. But this...I don't know what

    was, but it wasn't exciting in the least.

    is about a maid, who becomes a model, who gets her picture painted and attracts the notice of a few men. The painter is famous, so tha

    I CAN'T SHOUT "

    " LOUD ENOUGH!!!

    The popular fame obtained by this book and its subsequent movie version starring Scarlett Johansson...

    *two hours later*

    (Sorry, I was daydreaming)...had me expecting a tumultuous romance, a grab-ya and hold-ya reading experience. But this...I don't know what

    was, but it wasn't exciting in the least.

    is about a maid, who becomes a model, who gets her picture painted and attracts the notice of a few men. The painter is famous, so that's interesting. His patron is rich, of course, and expects to get what he wants, so there's your villain...kind of.

    Really, our protagonist's main enemy is jealousy. But that enemy's effectiveness is quashed by another force: money. And that leaves us with a less dramatically, emotionally affecting book.

    I read through to the end, expecting something bigger to happen the whole way, but even though it never did, I did still manage to get through it all, so there's something to be said for that.

    In the end, however, this book has to say about as much as does a picture of a beautiful woman. Not much.

    My overly sensitive and irrational wife would like me to take down my Johansson picture collage homage from the ceiling over our bed. But as I've explained, ScarJo needs the support of her #1 fan!

  • Vane J.

    Have you ever seen the painting

    by Johannes Vermeer? No? Then, have a look at it:

    I hadn't seen it until a few months ago, in a class I was taking at the university called “film appreciation”. My professor wanted to show us the movie that goes by the name of this painting because he wanted to illustrate some concepts present in the movie and many other things. Well, at the end of the movie, in the credits (yes, I read the credits; besides, the music wa

    Have you ever seen the painting

    by Johannes Vermeer? No? Then, have a look at it:

    I hadn't seen it until a few months ago, in a class I was taking at the university called “film appreciation”. My professor wanted to show us the movie that goes by the name of this painting because he wanted to illustrate some concepts present in the movie and many other things. Well, at the end of the movie, in the credits (yes, I read the credits; besides, the music was amazing), it said “based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier”, so I told my self “why, it was based upon a book, therefore I should read it”, and that's why I decided to read it.

    was an interesting book to read. First of all because it features a famous painter, Johannes Vermeer; secondly, because the story is narrated from their maid's point of view; and finally, because we get to see how society was back in the seventeenth century.

    The story follows Griet, a young girl who gets a job as a maid in Vermeer's house. Since she first came to the house, she is hated by her mistress, Tanneke (the other maid) and Cornelia (one of the uncountable children Catharina had), but she gained something far more precious. She gained Vermeer's interest.

    Our heroine –Griet— is one of those characters who develop in the course of the story. She starts from being completely innocent and shy, and grows from there. At the end, she's still innocent, but she has changed. She has a particular obsession in hiding her hair with a cap, because her not showing her hair makes her be herself. Without her cap, she is “one of those women”, and she is not like that.

    Vermeer is great. I loved him and his dedication. I also loved his relationship with Griet. It's not a romance, mind you, but it was obvious he cared for her, and the same applied the other way round. His personality was very intriguing too: He was always so calm and isolated from the world, even when there were many people in the same room as him. It always felt as if he was alone, and I don't know, that made him stand out.

    The writing is beautiful. Simply brilliant. You could feel as if you were present in 1600's Holland. The details were enough to please you, but they were not overwhelmingly enough to tire you. It was perfect.

    I'm glad I gave this book a try, because it surely deserved my reading it. A good fast read that will remain with me. I hope someday, when I'm older, I cross paths with this book again, because I would want to re-read it eventually.

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    When the Vermeers came to visit Griet’s home she had no idea they were there for her. Her parents had decided, given their near destitution, to find Griet a position as a maid with a wealthy

    When the Vermeers came to visit Griet’s home she had no idea they were there for her. Her parents had decided, given their near destitution, to find Griet a position as a maid with a wealthy family. Her older brother had already been placed in a Delft tile factory. It was now her turn to earn the food that made it’s way into her belly. She was, after all, seventeen.

    Johannes Vermeer was a master painter, recognized even in his own time as one of the best, but he was a slow painter. He would only paint when he was inspired to paint. An empty purse or a rumbling stomach were never enough inspiration to make him paint faster. He averaged only two to three paintings a year. As someone who has always admired his paintings I do wish he had been more prolific with his brush, but the fact that there are so few paintings by Vermeer make them all the more precious.

    Griet is thrown into this chaotic household. The house is brimming with children, too many children even by the standards of the day. Catharina, Vermeer’s wife, liked being pregnant and though the added burden of a new mouth to feed each year places extra financial stress on her husband and her mother Maria Thins she is oblivious to the consequences. Their fortunes wane and fall based more on the property incomes of her mother than on the commissioned paintings of Vermeer. Each year the purse strings get pulled a bit tighter.

    There is one patron, a man who has bought several Vermeer paintings, who they all have to curry favor with...Van Ruijven. His wealth infuses him with an air of entitlement. He is used to getting what he wants and when he sees the wide eyed beauty who has just joined Vermeer’s household he decides he wants her.

    Vermeer has found from the very beginning that Griet is different. She sees the world as a painter sees the world. He finds reasons to have her help him by grinding paints and assisting with the objects that populate his paintings. It is only natural that a young girl would start to have feelings and dreams regarding a man such as Vermeer. He is not only talented, but he is also attractive with those gray eyes that see so much more than anyone else.

    She becomes very adept at lying so she can spend more time in the studio.

    Van Ruijven, like odious men always seem to be, is adept at finding young women alone. He is not wanting to gossip with her or exchange thoughts about the weather or to woo her or to cajole her into parting with her charms. His hands with fingers like hooks push against her clothes weighing the curve and shape of her. She has to fend him off without offending him.

    Griet has another man in her life, not one that she would choose, but one that is infatuated with her. Pieter, the butcher’s son, wants to make her his wife. Being the wife of a butcher is a dream for many women because she and her family will always be well fed. A butcher is miles away from dream landscape of being the wife of a master painter.

    Tracy Chevalier has deftly conceived the possibility of

    being a maid in the Vermeer household. With each new revelation the tensions between Griet and Catharina tighten like lute strings pressing into tender flesh. Maria Thins, a realist, runs interference between all parties as best she can, but Catharina beset by jealousy and churlishness has difficulty seeing the bigger picture. I’ve read where other reviewers were disappointed in this book. They felt that very little happened, but they must be the same people who think baseball is boring.

    I was on the edge of my seat while reading this book as if I were watching a ten pitch at bat in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. The deception of the pitcher trying to outmatch the quick hands of the batter. The shifting of the outfield depending on the ball the pitcher intends to throw next. The subtle communications between the catcher and the pitcher. Add a base runner at first and now the situation feels like Griet trying to maneuver her way through a world of lust, deviousness, and deceit. Does she run or does she wait for something to happen?

    There are lots of moments that need no dialogue as Griet experiences impossible longings…

    There are things we can’t say because they can not be unsaid.

    The painting that Vermeer paints of Griet is a compromise to Van Ruijven who wanted much, much more. With her direct gaze at her audience and the slight parting of her lips this is an acceptable form of pornography, slightly scandalous, fodder for gossips, but not anything that could bring unwanted attention from the authorities. It gives Griet a shiver to think of her captured innocence resting under the lecherous eyes of Van Ruijven, but better a painting than losing that which she wishes to give her future husband.

    I bought a canvas copy of The Girl With the Pearl Earring last year. The print is gallery wrapped which gives the painting animation as if it can jump away from the wall and walk into this life. She is hung over the staircase with enough light from the window over the door to show off the skill of Vermeer to illuminate. When people walk in the door they are struck as millions over centuries have been struck. People who don’t know a Vermeer from a Dali have to take a moment to access and appreciate her lustrous beauty. From where I sit to read I can see her and occasionally she catches my eye, a flirtation that makes me feel years younger.

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  • Diane

    This was a pleasant diversion. This novel about a pretty maid who appeared in one of Vermeer's paintings is easy to slip into, didn't ask much of me, and kept me entertained for a few days.

    Is it great literature? No. Was it turned into a decent movie? Yes. Would I recommend the book? Depends. The plot skips along well enough, and I enjoyed how the author invented stories for some of Vermeer's famous paintings. My copy was a deluxe edition that included pictures of his artwork, which I appreciat

    This was a pleasant diversion. This novel about a pretty maid who appeared in one of Vermeer's paintings is easy to slip into, didn't ask much of me, and kept me entertained for a few days.

    Is it great literature? No. Was it turned into a decent movie? Yes. Would I recommend the book? Depends. The plot skips along well enough, and I enjoyed how the author invented stories for some of Vermeer's famous paintings. My copy was a deluxe edition that included pictures of his artwork, which I appreciated. However, the writing is competent but forgettable, and I didn't find any exceptional quotes to share.

    If you like light historical fiction or stories about artists, you may enjoy this. Or you could just watch the movie.

  • Barry Pierce

    I approached this novel trepidatiously. How could I ever suspend my disbelief with this work? How could I ever believe such a ridiculous tale about Vermeer and one of his most revered paintings? I must admit that I opened this novel expecting to utterly detest the lies it weaves. By page two I realised that I was an idiot who should never be listened to.

    Griet is hired as a maid to the Vermeer family in Delft. This novel supposes that Griet the maid was the sitter for Vermeer's great work

    I approached this novel trepidatiously. How could I ever suspend my disbelief with this work? How could I ever believe such a ridiculous tale about Vermeer and one of his most revered paintings? I must admit that I opened this novel expecting to utterly detest the lies it weaves. By page two I realised that I was an idiot who should never be listened to.

    Griet is hired as a maid to the Vermeer family in Delft. This novel supposes that Griet the maid was the sitter for Vermeer's great work

    . However that is not the story, or at least it is only a small part of it. The novel mainly concerns the inner workings of the Vermeer household and Griet's attempts to keep everything in control. It is a fantastic character study and I do admire Chevalier's bravery in using the first-person narrative. Whilst I will admit that at times Griet's dialogue is somewhat stilted and some lines are just downright odd ('His smile made me grip my broom tightly' was one line that made me chuckle due to its utter ridiculousness), she is never an annoying or tiring character.

    I really enjoyed the subtlety and delicacy of the novel. The plot flows along nicely which causes you to really fly through the narrative. It is not a criticism that I often voice but I would have almost liked for this novel to be longer. I feel I will truly miss Griet. I must say that I am somewhat smitten with this novel. It genuinely surprised me. It's really great.


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