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Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Published by
Harper Collins, 2000

The girl in the Vermeer painting 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is the subject of this fascinating story by Tracy Chevalier. Griet, the Protestant daughter of a Delft tile painter who has lost his sight in a kiln accident, goes to work as a maid for the Catholic Vermeer household. That growing family with its jealous wife, five children, grandmother and long-time loyal servant makes life difficult for Griet. Her only release is when Vermeer, recognising her artistic talent, secretly takes her on as a studio assistant. Griet is overjoyed both to work with her intriguing master and to find an outlet for her talent. However, problems arise when Vermeer's most prominent patron demands that the lovely maid be the subject of the artist's next painting. Vermeer must paint Griet - an awkward, charged situation for them both.

This well-researched novel is true, in general, to the details of Vermeer' life. Chevalier successfully re-creates the atmosphere of 17th century Delft, raising issues about the class structure and the status of women at that time. Detailed (but never boring) accounts of the artistic process and the life of an artist at the time are provided, as well as of the drudgery which was the housemaid's lot.
Chevalier brings this painting and the other painting described in the book alive for modern readers and a greater appreciation of the artist's work results. The language used and the detailed description afforded to everyday processes force you to read this book slowly, making it a most relaxing read. This book became a bestseller, not through a massive publicity budget but through word of mouth. A most enjoyable read - we at the Book Club will be recommending it to our friends.

Reviewed by deValera Library Book Club.