BLURB: “When Griet becomes a maid in the household of the painter Johannes Vermeer, she thinks she knows her role: housework, laundry and taking care of his six children. But as she becomes part of his world and his work, their growing intimacy spreads tension and deception in the ordered household and, as the scandal seeps out, into the town beyond”.
I fear that, much like with my previous review of ‘The Snow Child’, the reviews I had read predisposed me to expect much more of this book than I actually got. Don’t get me wrong – I liked the book – but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to. The novel tells the story of Griet, the maid who served Johannes Vermeer and was later to become his muse, forever immortalised as the ‘Girl with a pearl earring’. From the blurb, I had suspected that Chevalier would make this a romantic tale – the growing obsession of an artist with his muse has been the subject of several other historical novels I have enjoyed, such as ‘Portrait of an Unknown Woman’ by Vanora Bennett. However, the relationship between Vermeer and Griet fails to develop in the way the reader suspects, leading us to feel somewhat unfulfilled. Griet’s relationship with Pieter the butcher’s son is also not what the reader hopes for and further increases the sense of unfulfillment – perhaps we are supposed to feel as unfulfilled as Griet, who develops an infatuation for Vermeer but never truly has her feelings or emotions enacted, aside from one touching moment of intimacy between the two characters that readers would surely have hoped to lead to something more. Although realistic, and relatively interesting, the story would have made a much better tale had it given the reader a sense of empathy for Vermeer, or even a connection with Griet, a character who feels distant and aloof to the reader throughout the novel. For fans of art or historical fiction, however, the book may be thoroughly appreciated in that it does well in recreating the atmosphere and scenery of 17th century Holland – the highlights of the novel are in Chevalier’s descriptive techniques, which evoke a vivid image of the setting worthy of any painter.