Book info

Girl With A Pearl Earring (2015)

Girl With a Pearl Earring (2015)
Rating
3.82 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0452287022 (ISBN13: 9780452287020)
languge
English
genre
publisher
plume/penguin
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Girl With A Pearl Earring (2015)
Girl With A Pearl Earring (2015)

About book: Gorgeous painting, deeper appreciation of art; mediocre, annoying bookThis is a book that fictionalizes what might have been behind the famous Vermeer painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring". Griet's family is destitute, and now she must work as a maid in the Vermeer household, cleaning up the famous painter's workstation. Slowly, she grows more interested in her master, and her master in her.I am not what you would call an artsy person. I make an effort to decorate my home nicely, I can pick out nice yarns for knitting and crocheting (according to a pattern), and I am fairly decent at picking clothes that don't clash, but that is as far as my "artistic abilities" go. You wouldn't find me in an art museum for fun, unless my sister, the artsy one in the family, drug me there. So when I say that this book made me look up Vermeer, analyze his work, and actually grow more appreciative of it, I think it's a somewhat big deal.And, though I really hate to say this, that is the biggest reason I am giving this book two stars. Because a book that makes me look up a historical figure, investigate his work, and actually start to like it deserves to have SOME kudos. If you take that aspect of the book away, you are left with a medicore book, populated with annoying/cliched characters with virtually no plot to speak of.Griet is our protagonist, and there were several times I was hoping she would drown in her washing or set herself on fire or accidentally fall between the butcher and his blade. I understand she's young, but I didn't realize she was A) a 10 year old child (she acts way younger, more sheltered, and more immature than her 17 years would indicate), B) a spoiled, wealthy child suddenly thrown into poverty (though her father lost his trade, I never got the impression they were wealthy before this book), or C) hideously emo (she tends to wangst about not seeing her parents, about the "secrets" she has to hide, and she faints after piercing her ear). Her first day working for the Vermeers, she whines that the first time she smiled all day is when she saw a familiar butcher's face. Booohooo. She is stupid, keeping an expensive comb anywhere within a 12 mile radius of a bratty child who wants to wreak havoc on Griet's life. She is dense as a brick, selfish, ungrateful, and unemotional (she is never shown loving or caring at all for Pieter, which makes the ending seem weird). And yet somehow, this girl garners the attention of THREE men and the hatred of SEVERAL women. She's better at cleaning, cooking, caring for Vermeer's studio, making paint, buying meat, AND arranging items in Vermeer's paintings (yes, it is SHE that comes up with the earring idea for the titular painting and rearranges the cloth for another painting). Griet, come on down, you've won the Mary Sue of the Month award!The other characters are two dimensional at best. Catharina is a b!tch, mean to Griet just because. I am really sick and tired of this cliche: of having the female of the house hate the "poor girl" just because, well, that's what the female of the house is supposed to do, I guess. I ended up feeling SORRY for Catharina, because I felt she was desperately trying to win her husband's attention by having so many children. Cornelia is a demon; her actions venture way beyond "Terrible Child" into "Spawn of the Devil". One character dies just to include some more angst and a thin relation to the Plague. Vermeer is a complete enigma. I can understand retaining some mystery around him, but when you finish the book with as many questions as you began, something is wrong. I have no idea what he saw in Griet, how he felt towards her, and who he was. Van Ruijven is a stereotypical CAD; Tenneke is stupid (she can't tell when Griet is sucking up to her?? Yeah, right!). Pieter started out a nice guy, but when he feels up Griet against her will, I just felt cold. Their entire relationship is awkward: he seems really keen on her, very nice, yet she wants nothing to do with him. But then, after Vermeer sees her hair loose, she is okay with having sex with Pieter??? Huh???The story is so bland and stereotypical, it's absurd. How many times have we seen the "X must take a job because X's father/provider can't work" or something along these lines? It wouldn't be bad if there was SOMETHING to make it different, but Griet never gives an indication of what she is missing out on nor does her story make this plot line interesting. Instead, all she does is whine about how rough her hands are, how much her back hurts, how much work she has to do, how bloody the butcher is, how all the women hate her, etc.And what makes Griet so special that Vermeer pays her any mind? I got a glimpse when Griet arranges vegetables, and I actually liked a scene where Griet and Vermeer discussed colors in white, but other than that, there is nothing between them. Well, there IS Griet's feelings for Vermeer, but because I saw so little of Vermeer, I always got the impression she had a major crush on Vermeer and he was just smitten with her in an artistic sense.As for all the secrets...come on, people, what gives? Why is it such a big deal that Griet helping Vermeer create paint? Why do they go to such efforts to keep it a secret? Why the big deal about the painting Vermeer does of Griet? Is it because of the possibility of an affair? If so, why did Catharina have no problem with Vermeer painting the butcher's daughter or van Ruijven's family? Vermeer is painting her to get paid; you would think Catharina would have enough sense to be okay with that, but apparently, no! (In fact, if she were a REALLY interesting character, she might see Griet's painting potential and FORCE her to sit so they could make more money!) If people actually TALKED to each other, instead of hiding stupid things like this, there wouldn't BE a story.The ending actually isn't bad. I liked how she moved on and wasn't still harping (too much) on Vermeer. Though there were still a few things that bugged me (SPOILER FRIENDLY: her marriage, what she did with Vermeer's final gift to her).I suppose if you are really curious about Vermeer and his background and don't mind a fluffy, almost Young Adult approach to it, this is your book. But if Mary Sues, flat characters, and an almost non-existent story hold you back, you may want to skip. I will give this book credit: it was a fast listen (I "read" on audiobook) and made me more interested in the artist.UPDATE 9/12/11: I recently watched the movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth and was pleased at how well it was adapted to movie format. This isn't something I often say, but I definitely preferred the movie over the book.

“I heard voices outside our front door - a woman's, bright as polished brass, and a man's, low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and fur.” The Girl With the Pearl EarringWhen 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. ”I did not like to think of him in that way, with his wife and children. I preferred to think of him alone in his studio. Or not alone, but with only me.”She becomes very adept at lying so she can spend more time in the studio. The soldier in The Procuress reminds me of Van Ruijven. One of the most interesting things about this painting is the precariously perched pitcher. It makes me so nervous that I want to reach into the painting and move it to somewhere safer.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 The Girl with the Pearl Earring 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…“I could not think of anything but his fingers on my neck, his thumb on my lips.” There are things we can’t say because they can not be unsaid. Scarlett Johansson played Griet in the 2003 movie of The Girl With the Pearl Earring.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. ”I looked at the painting one last time, but by studying it so hard I felt something slip away. It was like looking at a star in the night sky--if I looked at one directly I could barely see it, but if I looked from the corner of my eye it became much brighter.”
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Reviews
Robert Beveridge
Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutton, 1999)To date, I've read only one bad review of this slight novel, and a whole lot of excellent ones. I'm casting my vote on the excellent side. Chevalier took one of Vermeer's best-known and most enigmatic paintings and built a story around it (there are a series of these novels; Joyce Carol Oates' I Lock My Door Upon Myself is the only other one I've read, and it is similarly excellent). Griet, a sixteen-year-old from the Protestant side of the tracks, becomes the maidservant of the Vermeers after a kiln accident forces her father out of a job, and the story alternately skips between the variouis tensions within the Vermeer household and Griet's courting by a somewhat ham-handed, if well-meaning, butcher. It's subject matter that could have (and has) been screwed up in too many ways to imagine, but Chevalier pulls it off by keeping the prose spare and letting the silences speak most of the necessary lines. ****
Ij
Girl with a Pearl EarringTracy ChevalierPlume, 2001The “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is a painting done by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, around 1665. Not much is known about Vermeer which gives Chevalier creative license to develop what I believe is an interesting story. The painting is currently on exhibition in New York, at the Frick Collection. The exhibition is scheduled to be there until January 19, 2014.The story told in first person by Griet the protagonist starts in Delft (South Holland), in 1664, when she was sixteen (16). Griet is the daughter of a tile painter who has recently lost his sight. Griet parents hired her out as a maid to the Vermeer family. Griet was expected to help out her family by bringing home the fruits of her labor. In the first few pages of the book there is considerable change in this family. The father has lost his sight, her brother Frans (thirteen (13)) has left home to start an apprenticeship, now Griet is leaving home to work. Her younger sister Agnes is upset because she will be without both siblings. Griet is concerned because her family is Protestant and while the Vermeer’s are Catholic. When the Vermeers visits Griet’s house to determine her suitability for the job as maid they each looked at her differently. Catharina, Vermeer’s wife was concerned about Griet’s physical ability to perform the job while Vermeer noted how she had laid out the vegetable she was cutting up for a stew separating them by color, in a circular pattern.The Vermeers have five (5) children with one on the way. Vermeer’s mother-in-law, Maria Thins, also lives in the house. There are a couple of other servants who assisted in running the household, which gave room for more conflicts in the story. Griet’s main job is doing the laundry and cleaning Vermeer’s studio, but, she also helps with the kitchen and taking care of the children. Griet was challenged by many conflicts primarily with Catharina, Cornelia (one of the children), and Tanneke (a long term servant). She also has to fight off Vermeer’s patron, van Ruijven. He is married but has a reputation for chasing young maids.Griet later took on more responsibility which included purchasing food for the family. She noted that the Vermeer family use Pieter for their butcher. She was to shop for the family daily and purchase the meat for the day. Pieter had a son who showed interest in Griet, which was at first not returned.Griet showed interest in Vermeer’s painting and asked him questions which he seemed to encourage. He later showed her how he made his colors for his paintings. Griet later became the subject of a portrait which he was commissioned by van Ruijven to paint.I think the author struggled at times to write as a sixteen (16) year old would think. However, I enjoyed the book.
Ryan
I had to persevere in order to make it through Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring. In spite of all the reviews on the back cover lauding this as a literary gem, a literary jewel, and a dazzling novel, I was pretty sure it was "just" a romance novel.My romance credentials are these: although I have never read a romance novel, I have seen the covers of romance novels. And I've also listened to people I know discuss romance novels. So with that it mind...It struck me as cheesy in a Fabio romance novel sort of way for Griet, our narrator, to walk about emphasizing how private she is. She wears a cap, which she starches with potato peels, to hide her face from others. She explains to us how she presses her lips into a line to subtly express her disapproval. We learn that she does this to repress the wanton woman within her, which is revealed by her hair -- it cannot be tamed. It can only be covered with a cap. I suppose authors have to toss in characterization somehow, but it all struck me as a bit vain.Perhaps it's just that Griet has an eye for detail, which will unfortunately be squandered on separating vegetables by color. That is, until she is hired as a maid to clean and do laundry for the famous 17th century Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer is attracted to Griet, which we can tell by the way he teases her by mixing her vegetables, by the way he doesn't talk to her, and by how Griet can feel him staring down at her from his second story studio window*. Sadly, he's married. And Griet admits that he obviously loves his wife, even though she's not as aesthetically perfect as Griet. Catharina can't even sit still long enough to be painted.She's not transcendent enough for art, nor for a tragic romance.Although we're told this tale from Griet's point of view, I found it difficult not to see her as the intruder. She is introducing betrayal into this family, and it's odd that it is so natural to hate one of Vermeer's daughters, who I think we could argue is only trying to get Griet fired to save her parents' relationship. We're also invited to sympathize with Vermeer, perhaps because Chevalier felt that it would be wrong to write a historical figure as an adulterer without any evidence that he cheated on his wife.He seems quite loyal to his family, but his first concern appears to be his art. This is one reason why the Vermeer family struggles to make ends meet. Another may be that our painter's wife, Catharina, is always pregnant -- "Again?" says Griet at one point. (Interestingly, Chevalier was pregnant while she wrote this novel.) Moments like these help us to notice that Griet has painted Catharina as a bit of an imbecile, unworthy of her brilliant husband.Isn't this a jealous teen's narrative?What intrigued me is that Chevalier, who we might expect to have identified with Catharina, nevertheless wrote Girl With a Pearl Earring in such a way that we can identify with Griet, and even walk away from this novel quite sympathetic to her and Vermeer. Chevalier's ending even allows us to walk away without sympathy for Catharina or the other members of her family. Bizarre!So is it a gem? Is it literary? I really have not read enough "romance" to speculate over what distinguishes it from literature. Having said that, I couldn't escape the feeling that making Johannes Vermeer a primary character in this novel tricked critics into associating Girl With a Pearl Earring with high art. But I'm quite prepared to accept rebuttal.And regardless of the reviews, Chevalier does offer readers a pretty tangled web.*Might Girl With a Pearl Earring be the next step for Twilight fans looking for a more mature depiction of the Edward/ Bella dynamic?
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