In seventeenth-century Delft, there is a strict social order -- rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, master and servant -- and all know their place. Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, and she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry, and the care of his six children. She even feels able to handle his shrewd mother-in-law, his restless sensual wife, and their jealous servant.
What no one expects is that Griet's quiet manner, quick perceptions, and fascination with her master's paintings will draw her inexorably into his world. Their growing intimacy sparks whispers; and when Vermeer paints her wearing his wife's pearl earrings, the gossip escalates into a full-blown scandal that irrevocably changes her life.
Girl With a Pearl Earring is a beguiling story about artistic vision and sensual depth that eloquently recreates the feeling of the famous painting that inspired it.
"Inspired by Vermeer's painting of the same name, Chevalier creates an elegant and intriguing story of how a young peasant girl came to have her portrait painted. It is seventeenth-century Holland, and 16-year-old Griet is obliged to take a job as a maid for the artist Vermeer after her father loses his eyesight in an accident. She does the laundry, cares for the six children, and cleans house, but her easy manner and natural artistic perceptions ingratiate her to Vermeer, and she finds herself drawn into his world--mixing colors, cleaning his studio, and standing in for his models. This new intimacy between master and servant crosses strict social divisions, inspires jealousy in his wife, Catharina, as well as the other maid, and sparks rumors in town. At the insistence of his patron, Vermeer paints Griet wearing his wife's pearl earring. When Catharina sees the painting, a scandal erupts, and Griet is forced to make some life-altering decisions. This is a beautiful story of a young girl's coming-of-age, and it is delightful speculative fiction about the subject in a painting by an Old Master. --Carolyn Kubisz"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"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. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved