Reviewed by Monique Prince, Undergraduate Services Librarian
Based on a Johannes Vermeer painting from 1665, Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fictional account of this mysterious piece of art dubbed "The Dutch Mona Lisa." The story takes place in Delft, a small but vibrant Dutch city where Vermeer spent his entire life. Griet is a young girl who is sent to work as a maid in his household which included his wife, mother-in-law, five children, and housekeeper. Griet is intrigued by Vermeer, a quiet and reclusive man. Because she has an eye for art, he begins to teach her about his processes and allows her to help grind paints, mix colors, and work with background objects, although they conceal these activities from others in the house. When Vermeer's patron insists that he use Griet as a model for his next painting, suspicion and jealousy, as well as a subtle undertone of attraction between artist and subject, force Griet to make a difficult choice that will impact the rest of her life.
A feature of this book that is particularly enjoyable is the artistic details, particularly of color and light, used to describe the city and its residents. In one vivid scene, Griet is at her parents' house and is chopping vegetables for a soup when Vermeer and his wife arrive. She explains, "I always laid vegetables out in a circle, each with its own section like a slice of pie. There were five slices: red cabbage, onions, leeks, carrots, and turnips." As Vermeer probes her about how she decided where to place them, he says "I see you have separated the whites...And then the orange and the purple, they do not sit together. Why is that?" She replies, "The colors fight when they are side by side, sir." Such descriptive imagery is what makes this book especially memorable.