Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
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.
The Girl With the Pearl Earring has anonymously looked over her shoulder at us for over three hundred years. She has never had a name, and has never been identified. Her mystery is in her dark setting, in her exotic head wrap, and, ultimately, in that look in her eyes. She's looking at someone, almost with an expectancy. Chevalier has not only taken her, named her, and given her a life all of her own, but has also created the very real possibility that Vermeer painted one of the maids in his household.
This account is well-crafted in it's simplistic, innocent narrative, reflective of Griet's place in the world. Historical social customs and ways of life never tire me, and I was completely taken in by Griet's need to provide for her family, her introduction to the ways of household she was employed, and even (though heartbreakingly) the spread of plague in the area. I have always been utterly enthralled at how the ways we behave towards each other change immeasurably with the passing of the years, and Chevalier has only piqued my curiosity for the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.
The descriptions of Holland in the 1600s were nothing less than wonderful. The canals, the markets, the clothes; all were depicted to create an appreciation and understanding of the time and place we'd found ourselves in. Her words are masterful in their evocation of the senses; touch and smell were particularly prevalent, and gorgeous to hold on to.
Griet's relationship with her master was hugely different from what I had expected. Although there's secrecy and tension, there's a distinct lack of romance, and that's a very important factor. Chevalier gives us a clever girl, a worrier, a thinker; Vermeer is shown in shadow, his thoughts a complete mystery - he's even only ever referred to by pronouns - and this was the most impactful part of the novel. He cared for her, but whether or not he was in love with her neither we, nor Griet, will ever know. It's careful treading by the author, but also a courageous refusal to fall into the romance trap; I respected her so much for this.
Ultimately, I'm grateful this captivating girl has been given a story. However fictionalised it is, it's a beautiful one I won't forget for some time. Absolutely gorgeous.