Girl With a Pearl Earring is written by UEA alumni Tracy Chevalier. Because of this I knew right from the outset that it would be a good book. UEA churns out good writers, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and more recently Emma Healey to name just a few. It was pretty much guaranteed to be well written and that’s something I particularly look for in a novel.
If I’m honest, it’s not a book I had a hankering to read until I stumbled across it lying on a dusty shelf at the Book Barn (the biggest second hand book shop in the world – probably anyway). I’ve never seen the film and honestly knew nothing about the story but wanted to give it a go.
This novel tells the story of how the iconic painting Girl With a Pearl Earring came to be painted. The novel, however, is pure fiction since the identity of the real girl is still a mystery. Griet, as a very young woman, begins working at the painter Vermeer’s house as a maid when her family come into financial trouble. The family are Catholic with a million children – or at least it seems that way – and Griet is Protestant. She struggles to adjust to their family life and faces a number of challenges along the way.
This doesn’t sound like an extraordinarily interesting book but it is. It reminded me a little of The Miniaturist because of the setting and era, but this is better. It’s well written and that’s so key for me; some of the language is really gripping. The other thing I suppose is that I’ve come away from the novel feeling as if I have learnt something. I know a little more about life in the Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century. I know a little more about life.
Girl With a Pearl Earring is written in first person and I felt I could really connect with the character. I felt sorry for her when the children played tricks on her, I understood her closeness to her sister and her conflict of feelings over Pieter the son. In simple terms, I understood the character and all of her actions and all of her motives. This made it a very moving novel in a way that The Miniaturist never was.
The only thing I could have wished was that this novel had a more rounded ending. I don’t want to give too much away but I wish I knew a little more about how she felt about the way her life turned out. I suppose by that point in the novel you know the character so well that you know how she feels about the whole situation but still, I wish I had been told. I wish I didn’t have to do the thinking myself.