Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Reading Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Because I've had very little time lately I chose to humour you with pieces of my life, which (I have to admit) were much more funny and interesting when I was thinking about posting them here than they were when I actually did it. Then main reason for writing more about my (currently very boring - books'n'sleep) personal life was that writing book "reviews" takes up more time. Or at least I imagined so. Today, as promised I will put an end to this going-nowhere personal crap and finally give you some real content. (For a content obsessed blogger, that's a step in the right direction.)

I bought the book just because I saw the film first and loved it. I watched the film with boyfriend who said it was an unusually quiet film. And so it was. But the photography, the superb acting, the ability to say a "thousand" words with a look or a gesture is apparent and very functional in this film. Also, it is not a secret that I find Colin Firth a decently talented actor and that all my hopes (for a splendid acting career) lie with Scarlett Johansson.

I first wanted to borrow the book from a library as I often do. For weeks I waited in vain. The book seems to be very popular with Slovenian readers. Then a few weeks ago, when I was in Konzorcij, I saw it on a shelf, and as it was reasonably priced, I bought it. I expected quite a lot of this book. Mainly because I liked the film so much, but also because it received good reviews and because it seemed to be popular. I was (if only a little) disappointed.

The book's written in first person singular, so the story is told from Griet's, the housemaid's standpoint. For some moments, this functions well. To be honest, this technique functions remarkably well in this book - it renders Griet unable to know what others are thinking and thus makes her more distant, more alone in the house where she serves. This loneliness is the best described aspect of the book - how Griet is alone: the only maid to help him, the only to clean for him, the only to understand him. It is logical that she perceives herself of special importance to him and thus she finds herself being in love, despite the fact (the book's more clear on this than the film) that he doesn't reciprocate her feelings. He certainly likes to be understood, but he doesn't fall in love with Griet (it is very obvious how he loves his wife when he says he converted from Protestantism to Christianity).

The book is naive, the language almost overly simple, but has an air of determination, an almost Griet-like personality (again, benefiting from the first person singular narrative). But that is the only other good thing there is. The story is not very unusual, though the climate at Vermeer's house is well described. There are certain little scenes, private battles of wills, envy, loneliness, a little despair - these are little triumphs in this book. Unfortunately, the author didn't manage to extend the tone and manner of these paragraphs to the whole book.

It's a decent book, but never a very good one, because once you've read it, there is hardly anything to add. The story's finished, at some points even lamely motivated (like at the end) and there are no further questions. I often find that with great books, with the exceptional books, one identifies (if only a very small piece of their personality) with the book. At one point you might say - that's exactly how I feel, but I wouldn't have ever been able to describe it like that. There are paragraphs you'd ponder why it happened that way only to discover that there was no other way. There will be phrases stuck in your memory, there will be powerful feelings that the book evoked, there will be the experience of first reading the book, that you'll never forget. And somehow, Chevalier's book doesn't quite manage any of this. It is a simple story, perhaps a little tragic, but with a positive ending. What it lacks is a better motivation of certain Griet's (and others') actions.

In conclusion: this is a book you may enjoy reading on holidays, but by no means is it something that will stay with you or guide you through the tough times. You might find the narrative a little overbearing sometimes, but the first person singular seems to be quite the Chevalier's way of writing. Her last book, The Lady and the Unicorn is written the same way as well (at least the first chapter - the taster - is) and the plot is remarkably similar. This is where the tables started to turn. I read the Girl in one day, enjoyed it, but not completely as I already knew what happens. Then I read about the Lady and saw a pattern emerge. I had professed my deeply buried dislike for authors who repeat a "bestseller" formula (once they've discovered it) all over again. And I think I might be beginning to feel that way about Chevalier as well. Do you think I'll ever read the Lady? I think not.


posted by Nadezhda | 11:20


Blogger Bo said...

Scarlett Johansson ... she's cute, I must say. And she can fill the screen with materia ... with much matter. I respect her.

Tomorrow is definitely on her side.

She was the cutest in In Good Company (2004), and I felt the highest respect for her in Match Point (2005), but I haven't seen this Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) you blog about. Looking through the movie stills, I must say they made her very similar to the painting of J. Vermeer in your post. This must be a good film. Plus Colin Firth, I like him too.

Blogger Nadezhda said...

I liked her in this movie a lot, since she has very few lines, but manages to make the most of it. Try to see it as soon as you can.

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