Friday, 21 December 2012

The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier

The November meeting found the group crowded round a laptop, closely examining the paintings of Vermeer. That is probably a very common reaction for readers of this book - we felt we'd been given an intense lesson in art, and all wanted to know more. 'How do you write a book about a painting?' we may have asked ourselves. Well, this is how - we were all drawn in and totally captivated by this wonderful story. The writing was deceptively simple, but there was an awful lot in it - a bit like Vermeer's paintings. We loved the maturity of Griet, and her internal battle between her Protestant uprightness and growing infatuation with Vermeer. Her lack of choices - forced by family poverty to either enter service or marry - was commented on. Kenneth pointed out it was social class more than gender that caused restrictions.

The place and time were beautifully evoked - Marghie said she felt she'd gone back and spent time there. The everyday domestic detail like doing laundry were great, and it was the close domestic setting which particularly allowed the tensions and jealousy to burn, as the women of the household were eaten up with resentment and jealously of Griet. Andy commented with some understatement "this was the sort of familiy that didn't get everything out in the open". Vermeer's wife Catharina was an interesting character - impossible to like, yet you could understand her insecurities. The feisty mother-in-law Maria, the lynchpin of the house, had real depth of character; the child Cornelia was a hateful brat; Griet's patiently cheerful suitor, Pieter the butcher, was a godsend, as events conspired to destroy her.

We debated long over Vermeer himself, whether he was callous and abusive of Griet, or just so self-absorbed and driven by his art that he couldn't appreciate the emotional battlefield he was creating. We agreed the depth of the relationship between them was mainly in Griet's head. They found a connection in their appreciation of perfect form, and although yes, she was taken advantage of by Vermeer, she did gain from him the chance to fulfil her artistic sense.

We liked the ending of the story - several of us confessed to anxiety that it wouldn't get tied up in as satisfying way. A lesser author might have left us hanging, but Tracey Chevalier gave us a fulfilling read right till the end.

Sorry the book group hasn't been blogging much lately - we have still been reading and meeting once a month, we've just let our reporting standards slip. Will try harder in 2013!

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