This is one of my favorite historical novels. I didn't expect some of the twists and turns of the story, and it was a page turner for sure. The characters are very well written and I would read this book again and recommend it to anyone. The story held me spellbound for hours and I listened to it again not too long after the first time. I love the setting and the way Chevalier writes these characters. I really wanted more and more of this book. The narration was so perfect it created a wonderful listening experience.
I had enjoyed "Fallen Angels" so very much and "Virgin Blue" slightly less (but it was still good). I have put off seeing the film of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" until I could finish the book, but now I may never bother. What a bore this book is! About 3/4 of the way through it I recognized it as a poor retelling of "Jane Eyre", but it never deserves to be fully compared to that masterpiece. This 1st person narrative is gentle and plodding, a poor girl brought down in circumstances who must take an honest job. She thinks WAY too highly of herself and her allure; she develops "relationships" in her head which are likely passing thoughts in the minds of the men involved. The narrator does an adequate job but also seems bored. I'm so glad I read the other books first!
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
I expect one of two things from historical fiction: enough historical details to help me better understand the time and place, or a good enough story to make it worth writing. This one delivered neither. There was no insight into Vermeer. Neither the real characters nor the imaginary ones had any reality to them. There was no motivation for the emotions and attractions between characters. You would have to project very hard to find any of the things the author obviously wanted readers to find. Fortunately for her, a great many readers were willing to do that work for her. I wasn't one of them.
The reader was good . The story was ok but nothing really stood out. I never wanted to drive around the block hear more. Maybe I'm just an adventure and action type of reader but I didn't feel like this went anywhere and I didnt' quite get the point. Maybe I need to see this picture in person or maybe I need to be dutch or a fan of Vemeer. I dunno...... Its worth a listen if the other choice is Mody Dick I suppose.
I, too, was bored to tears with this story. I listened to all of it -- only because I remember a big fuss being made of it when it first came out. Ho-Hum........so someone made up a story to go with a painting. Maybe to one who knows absolutely nothing about the creative process or who has very little life experience, this might be interesting. I thought it lacked, depth, breadth, plot, character and interest. "Nough said.
I was interested in this book because I had seen the real painting and other paintings by Vermeer. Unfortunately, I found the story to be a bit slow moving. The historical aspect of the storyline was overshadowed by the psychological narrative of the girl, and the psychological politics of the household. If you're looking for a light brush of Vermeer's work it's interesting, but it's not particularly in-depth historical fiction.
I listened to this book during the first week of a month long trip to the Netherlands. My interest in this country began with a first visit in 1983 when I visited the Rijksmuseum and saw my first Vermeer painting, and also visited the Anne Frank House, and read her diary. During this second visit, I planned to learn much more about Dutch art, history and culture. In preparation for my trip, I read two very good books on the art of the Dutch golden age and several others including two on the life and art of Rembrandt and one about Van Gogh. I also listened to the marvelous author narrated book by Russell Shorto, "Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City." Finally, I read three mystery novels by Janwillem van de Wetering and one absolutely stunning novel, "The Assault", by one of the Netherlands most beloved authors, Harry Mulisch.
I thought that the "Girl with a Pearl Earring" would make for light listening on the flight over and also as a pleasant book to listen to while strolling along the canals of Amsterdam. I was wrong. The idea of telling the tale of the creation of this masterpiece from the point of view of the subject is very intriguing. Since we do not know who the subject is or whether this was an actual portrait done for a paying client or a so-called "tronie", a painting possibly done from a real model but created for sale on the open market, the author has a relatively free hand to let her imagination drive the narrative. However, even in this imaginary space, an author must at least be careful not to write a tale so wildly at odds with what we know about this particular artist and this particular time in Dutch history.
Tracy Chevalier would have us believe that having a portrait painted was some kind of disgrace in the 17th century Netherlands. In fact the opposite is the case. Most families who could afford to have portraits painted, did so and hung them proudly in their homes. And not only families. Dutch guilds and organizations of every kind, from university professors to doctors performing dissections to the city militias engaged in fighting Spain for their independence had their group portraits painted. The Dutch of this time were wild for art and even the most humble homes had paintings on the walls.
The author would also have us believe that a head covering was required of a proper Dutch woman. Again, this is a laughable conceit. Many of Vermeer's other portraits show woman with beautifully coifed heads, often displaying jewels or other decorations in their hair. And not only Vermeer! Rembrandt, Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Bartholomeus van der Helst, and on and on. The list is endless. And the "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is wearing a Turkish style Turban, common in many "tronie" paintings of the day since it allowed the artist an opportunity to show off an ability to paint fabric folds and also to use bright shades of color.
Again, the author claims that this elaborate headdress was accidentally arrived at when another head covering came apart. Vermeer, who paid such careful attention to detail that his paintings often took two or more years to create, is unlikely to leave such an important detail to last minute happenstance.
The idea that women in the Netherlands were subservient, timid creatures is also absurd. In this period, after marriage, a woman kept her own name, not taking that of her husband. And servants in wealthier Netherlands households were treated as members of the family, taking meals with each other, and sharing in the household chores since the running of a household was truly labor intensive in that time.
Finally, I found most disturbing and objectionable the implied sadomasochistic relationship between Vermeer and his young subject. Surely, there is nothing in this portrait or in any of Vermeer's work on which to base such a conjecture. It is the mysterious and not completely readable expression on the subject's face which adds drama and fascination to this masterpiece. Longing and wistfulness, perhaps, but pain and suffering no. The idea that artist and subject may be in love is not offensive and may even be a part of capturing a moment in time with such poignancy. Many artist-model liaisons are well known. But the idea that Vermeer demanded that his subject drive a gold wire through her ear lobe as she is about to pose for a portrait as part of her household duties is offensive and lacks even the remotest shred of credibility. While such distasteful fabrications may drive up book sales, ultimately they debase the work and turn the author into a panderer.
Beautiful story. I felt that I was there. I was there. Well narrated . I could smell the paint. I felt her unrequited love and his quite yet screaming discontent in the loss yet the completion of the painting was never the real reward. He had lost all in the process. He list himself. She has the pain always.