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Tracy Chevalier , Ruth Ann Phimister
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (668 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 2001
A brilliant historical novel on the corruption of innocence, using the famous painting by Vermeer as an inspiration. Griet, the young daughter of a tilemaker in seventeeth century Holland, obtains her first job, as a servant in Vermeer's household. Tracy Chevalier shows us through Griet's eyes, the complicated family, the society of the small town of Delft, and life with an obsessive genius. Griet loves being drawn into his artistic life, and leaving her former drudgery, but the cost to her own survival may be high.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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From Amazon

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 portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has exerted a particular fascination for centuries--and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier's second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centers 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 becomes increasingly intimate with her master. Then Vermeer employs her as his assistant--and ultimately has Griet sit for him as a model. Chevalier vividly evokes the complex domestic tensions of the household, ruled over by the painter's jealous, eternally pregnant wife and his taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic. Still, Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist.

Throughout, Chevalier cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style, whose exactitude is an effective homage to the painter himself. Even Griet's most humdrum duties take on a high if unobtrusive gloss:

I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary--bones, white lead, madder, massicot--to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and the other colors was magical.
In assembling such quotidian particulars, the author acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama's classic study The Embarrassment of Riches. Her novel also joins a crop of recent, painterly fictions, including Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever and Susan Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Can novelists extract much more from the Dutch golden age? The question is an open one--but in the meantime, Girl with a Pearl Earring remains a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction, and an appealingly new take on an old master. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The scant confirmed facts about the life of Vermeer, and the relative paucity of his masterworks, continues to be provoke to the literary imagination, as witnessed by this third fine fictional work on the Dutch artist in the space of 13 months. Not as erotic or as deviously suspenseful as Katharine Weber's The Music Lesson, or as original in conception as Susan Vreeland's interlinked short stories, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Chevalier's first novel succeeds on its own merits. Through the eyes of its protagonist, the modest daughter of a tile maker who in 1664 is forced to work as a maid in the Vermeer household because her father has gone blind, Chevalier presents a marvelously textured picture of 17th-century Delft. The physical appearance of the city is clearly delineated, as is its rigidly defined class system, the grinding poverty of the working people and the prejudice against Catholics among the Protestant majority. From the very first, 16-year-old narrator Griet establishes herself as a keen observer who sees the world in sensuous images, expressed in precise and luminous prose. Through her vision, the personalities of coolly distant Vermeer, his emotionally volatile wife, Catharina, his sharp-eyed and benevolently powerful mother-in-law, Maria Thins, and his increasing brood of children are traced with subtle shading, and the strains and jealousies within the household potently conveyed. With equal skill, Chevalier describes the components of a painting: how colors are mixed from apothecary materials, how the composition of a work is achieved with painstaking care. She also excels in conveying the inflexible class system, making it clear that to members of the wealthy elite, every member of the servant class is expendable. Griet is almost ruined when Vermeer, impressed by her instinctive grasp of color and composition, secretly makes her his assistant, and later demands that she pose for him wearing Catharina's pearl earrings. While Chevalier develops the tension of this situation with skill, several other devices threaten to rob the narrative of its credibility. Griet's ability to suggest to Vermeer how to improve a painting demands one stretch of the reader's imagination. And Vermeer's acknowledgment of his debt to her, revealed in the denouement, is a blatant nod to sentimentality. Still, this is a completely absorbing story with enough historical authenticity and artistic intuition to mark Chevalier as a talented newcomer to the literary scene. Agent, Deborah Schneider.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful book May 31 2012
By Jan
Format:Paperback
I bought this book at a second-hand book sale, as I'd heard of the movie but never knew the author...and what a lovely surprise! Thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end, and would definately recommend it. I'm about to read The Virgin Blue (those reviews not the greatest, but I'm still curious as this one impressed me so much).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book but poorly read July 15 2005
Format:Audio CD
I just finished listening to the novel on CD read by Jenna Lamia. Avoid it. The reader tries to put on accents for every different character and fails horribly. Her accent for Vermeer is most ridiculous of all and it takes away from the novel terribly. The only well created accent is Griet's; that's not a compliment considering the many characters in this excellent novel. Read the book but avoid this particular CD version.
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4.0 out of 5 stars great book July 9 2007
By Toni Osborne TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This novel tells the story of a young Dutch girl during the 17th century. The 16 year old daughter of a tile painter becomes a maid in the household of Johannes Vermeer to help support her family. Each day she must tend to the laundry and keep up with the housework for a condescending mistress and uncivil maids. She finds enjoyment only when she cleans her master's studio where she witnesses the creative process of his work and where she is also drawn into his private world. Their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the household.

This is an absorbing story, utterly convincing, you will get an image of what Vermeer may have been like. The novel is full of emotions making it a most engaging read, I loved it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars flows in smooth strokes! July 31 2006
By paula b
Format:Paperback
i have never seen the film, so my mind was completely open to the literaries, this book was one of the most pleasant and smoothly worded books i have read for a long time.

the descriptives were beautiful, the period elegantly evoked, and the artistic brushstrokes flowed wonderfully, thoroughly enjoyed this, read in about three days whilst chillin in the glorious summer sunshine!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful July 9 2005
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A very good read for a rainy day. The odd thing about this book that I found was that, after you read a book you are supposed to be able to analyze its characters and know them a bit. i discovered that I could not. There is almost no character development in this book and barely any plot. Yet, I found it an immensly enjoyable book that I recommend to anybody.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Girl with something to say July 28 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I don't usually tend to veer too far off the beaten path when it comes to books. Tending to stick with bestsellers like "Life of Pi" or "Bark of the Dogwood" my choices almost always keep me safe and warm. Well, not always safe, but you get the idea. So I was hesitant to take on "Girl" for fear of it being too "outisde." What I found instead was a riveting piece of work--art really--that melds historical fact with excellent fiction. Kudos to Tracy Chevalier for this remarkable achievement!
Also recommended: THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Commerce Not Art July 15 2004
By Robin
Format:Paperback
This book is about the economics of art as a commodity in a historical society in which it was exactly that. The point is that every society sees the art produced in its own time as a commodity, and usually not a very valuable one at that. The 21st century is the same as the 17th in this regard. However, we do not know which of our commodities will be the art form of a future age.Neither did they.
Vermeer painted to live: whether he also lived to paint is the question. Exactly the question the book asks us to think about. His family depend upon him painting and upon patrons buying and commissioning his work. As a result, everyone is paying. And the symbol of all the payments is the pearl earring. Vermeer trades something to get it into the painting, where we think it should be, but then we are unaware of any paintings of the same girl without a pearl earring. His mother in law pays with treachery. His wife pays with suffering. And the girl pays with personal obscurity, and everlasting fame.
And only we benefit.
Makes you think, doesn't it?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great job intertwining art history and fiction! July 13 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I inhaled this book when it reached my hands. I was not very familiar with Vermeer's paintings at the time, but I really enjoyed learning the stories behind the paintings, whether or not they actually happened. The author really did her homework on the painter as well as Dutch customs in the 1600's as far as I could verify it, although I am no expert. I watched the movie, however, and it fell short of my expectations. I know it's hard for a movie to be 100% true to the original story but it may just be that I am a perfectionist. If you saw the movie and liked it, then you'll definitely enjoy this book. Even if you didn't, it's still worth a shot.
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