Monday, 19 March 2018

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (1999)

The book centres on Vermeer’s prosperous Delft household during the 1660s. When Griet, the novel’s quietly perceptive heroine, is hired as a servant, turmoil follows. First, the 16-year-old narrator (Griet) becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model. A complex domestic tension rises in the household, ruled by the painter’s jealous, eternally pregnant wife and his taciturn mother-in-law.

Author: Tracy Chevalier was born on October 19, 1962. She grew up in Washington, DC. She moved to England in 1984, and worked for several years as a reference book editor. In 1994 she graduated from the MA course in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Her first novel, Virgin Blue, was chosen by WH Smith for its Fresh Talent promotion in 1997. She has written seven novels, mostly in the historical genre. Tracy lives in London with her husband and son.

My thoughts: I read this masterpiece twice. I loved this beautifully written historical fiction, all the more so as I am fond of Vermeer, a little known painter born in Delft in 1632. Johannes Vermeer painted mostly domestic interiors, often portraying a woman performing a task. He only painted about thirty-seven pictures and one of my favourite paintings is without a doubt the “Girl With a Pearl Earring”.

Although it is a fiction, the facts around the famous painter Johannes Vermeer are true. The author has respected the historical facts with respect to the dates and events that have taken place. I loved the character of the maid, Griet, a very intelligent and wise girl, who evolves in the course of the story. The other characters are intriguing, including the painter; most of the time the narrator (Griet) makes him seem very mysterious.

The style of the book is what I would call a “huis clos” in French (a claustrophobic drama behind closed doors). As the story develops the reader feels the tension growing and is gripped by an anxiety: how will Griet manage to survive among the vipers? It's an intense and sad story, but so beautiful. I urge you to read it.