Hawking Up Hairballs

Monday, October 09, 2006

Girl With A Pearl Earring

How could I not read a novel entitled Girl With A Pearl Earring, given that the eponymous painting by Vermeer is one of my all-time favorites. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, I suggest that you check out this link, Pearl Girl..

What I’ve always found most striking about the painting, is the illusion of spontaneity in the pose. It is almost as though it were done from a snapshot. I’ve often wondered about the source of that illusion, and have decided that it’s in the girl’s mouth. The way it hangs open ever so slightly suggests an unselfconsciousness that belies the hours of posing must have gone into the painting.

Needless to say, the novel doesn’t come up to Vermeer’s masterpiece. Not that I expected it to. It’s a rather small, domestic story of a young woman who goes to work in the Vermeer household as a maid, and of how she comes to be the model for the painting. I don’t know if Tracy Chevalier, the novel’s author, has an MFA in creative writing, but Girl With A Pearl Earring is the sort of work that the folks in those programs love. The prose is well-crafted. There’s a strong sense of place and time, and there’s no melodrama whatsoever.

It makes for a competent but ho-hum piece of work, and I don’t really understand what people see in this sort of novel. As regards a sense of place and time, in the age of cinema, no novelist can compete with a well-made film in that regard. As for the story, give me something that’s more of a roller coaster ride, a story that’s extravagant, outrageous and quirky. Hell, that’s what Shakespeare, along with others like Dickens.

That said, the movie by the same name is on my Netflix list of films. I went to the Internet Movie Database site, and there was a still shot from the movie there that intrigued me. Scarlett Johannson, who plays the subject of Vermeer’s portrait, is shown in the pose from the painting, and she’s got it nailed. I have to see that. Small story or not, I’ll watch the movie.


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