I have a whole bunch of older books that I buy when I go to bookstores while traveling, books that I've always wanted to read or that I should read because everyone has. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier was one of these. I wasn't too keen on picking it up as I don't care for period pieces, but once I did I found myself absolutely captivated.
Griet is almost sixteen when her parents inform her that she will be serving as a maid to help with family finances. She is sent to work for the Vermeer family, and one of her tasks is to clean the painter’s studio without moving a single thing. She struggles in the beginning to find her place in the house, with a fiery mistress, an ever-pregnant wife, and a stoic master. As the painter takes to Griet, she takes to him as well. His talent fuels her. When a wealthy patron known for his indiscretions takes to Griet, her master seeks to shield her from his advances. His efforts lead to one of his greatest works — but the end of Griet.
I went into this novel hesitant for several reasons. First, I tend to not be into period pieces not historical fiction. I’ll give it a shot, but I’m more of a contemporary murder and mayhem kind of girl. Second, this was such a big hat that I was sure it would be overhyped. I have learned my lessons the hard way. I had purchased this at a used bookstore somewhere forever and a day ago, and since I was trying to work through some older books to sell back to the used bookstore this summer, I thought I would pick it up. I was wrong to be hesitant, as it was a great piece of work.
I found Chevalier’s writing style to be compelling. I was interested in enough in her storytelling that I continually wanted to come back to find out where the story was going. It was a slow burn — this is not a high-octane, action-packed thriller, so there needs to be an element of languid prose to be able to keep me interested in what’s going to happen next. The key in why I enjoyed this so much was in the author’s weaving of the complicated pattern of Griet’s life. The characters served to move the story rather than the other way around. Chevalier made this work to deliver a carefully crafted story that was so vivid it felt real.
Griet’s father plays a small role, but it is her relationship with him that drives the plot line and reveals moments that otherwise might not be revealed. Pieter, the butcher’s son who takes a fancy to Griet, is not a loveable guy but is necessary to what will be Griet’s ultimate breaking point in the Vermeer house. I even found myself rooting for him even though I didn’t actually like him. Again, that’s a touchpoint in this novel. Vermeer wasn’t even terribly likeable but he was compelling as a character nonetheless.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel, and now I’m curious to check out the film and see what I think of it. I had never seen it, although I’m familiar with Scarlett Johansson as the lead and WOW, is that ever a 1:1 match. Talk about on point. However, I find myself wanting to live with the characters I developed in my mind with this book, as Chevalier has created such a vivid picture for me. Only time will tell.