In association with


Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier

Now a major motion picture, as they say. This was a very cinematic book, as other reviewers of the film have pointed out, and did really cry out to be made into a lovely movie. I haven't seen the movie, just read the book. It had a really authentic-seeming feel, in that as one read it, one felt immersed in this 17th century Dutch town culture, but do we really know what that was like? No, but it was convincing. A little less convincing were the motivations of the main character, Griet. What Chevalier has done with this book is to imagine a persona for the mysterious girl in the painting, of whom no one knows a thing - her age, name, relationship to the painter Vermeer if any. Of especial mystery is her clothing in the painting, which is not typical of any known style at the time. It is vaguely exotic-looking, yet the girl herself is anything but exotic, and is in fact most remarkable for her simplicity and quintessential pretty-young-Dutch-girl appearance. So Chevalier has imagined her as a teenaged maid, from a nice "middle-class" artisan family, forced into service because of her father's industrial accident, and thrust into a slightly alien Catholic household headed by a non-communicative painter and his troubled wife and dominating mother-in-law. All in all I had mixed feelings about the book. It was like a great painting of which you don't know enough; it seemed to promise more than it delivered somehow. And yet I have to give it points for realism, for that very reason: life is often mysterious and vaguely unsatifying, and this book is a hyper-realistic slice of life.