Girl with a Pearl Earring is a quiet, introspective, historical novel inspired by the famous painter Johannes Vermeer and yet, with all its subtlety, this book elicited more emotion from me than any other has in a long time. I found myself leaning toward the page it was so compelling one minute and then wanting to throw it across the room it was so maddening the next. Chevalier’s sharp exploration of sexism and classism of the 1660’s is evocative and intense. While it often isn’t easy to read, it is always beautiful and poignant and raw.
Griet is only sixteen when she goes to work as a maid for the famed painter Vermeer on the opposite side of her small Dutch town. Her father recently lost his eyesight and with it his job as a tile painter, so Griet must earn money to help her family eat. But the Vermeer family is different from her own in every way. They are wealthy while hers is poor, they are Catholic while hers are Protestant, and – more challenging than all of this – they are strangers when all she wants is a home. Griet tries to keep her head down in her new household, but she quickly realizes she cannot keep everyone happy. The painter’s daughters taunt her, his wife is suspicious of her, and Vermeer himself becomes increasingly interested in the girl. And with so many people claiming a stake on her, Griet’s life starts to spin out of her own control.
This book is absolutely enchanting. It’s sparsely written, but emotionally dense, delivering a well of feeling in each glance and averted eye, a mountain of information in each minuscule moment. And even though it is set over three-hundred years ago, it feels fresh, current, and timeless.
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