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Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999): Everyone’s Said It All Already

Tracy Chevalier, Girl with a Pearl Earring (Dutton, 1999)

[originally posted 5Jun2001]

Vermeer's painting cits atop the book title and a skyline on the cover.

A painting, a city, a time.
photo credit: bookfever.com

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 various 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. ****

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

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