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Mar 5, 2012

#2 Why I Read This Author: Tracey Chevalier

Posted by Wendy Ewurum  |  at  7:00 AM










We readers are a promiscuous lot.
We fall for just about anything that shows talent. I know I'm not alone in this.
With so many wonderful writers who can really fault us.
But even with as many 5 star ratings as I give on this blog, there is a level of writer or book that for me transcends whatever measures we use to judge what makes a great book. For a long time I've had five writers where I found this to be true and where my loyalties settled despite the notches I blatantly keep adding to my belt during my reading and review endeavours. This is my elite Diamond Club.


NOT listed in any order of preference these out of this world writers are:


In December I read a book called The Girl With The Pearl Earing by Tracey Chevalier. Its Literary Fiction and its perfect. I loved this book so much that I kept going back to sections of it thereafter. And so Tracy Chevalier became the sixth addition to my list. 
I found Tracy's writing to be simple and yet deeply evocative. Nothing verbose about her at all, every word she uses is of everyday language but used in such a way that it has powerful delivery. I really loved that every things she says or describes has purpose and you find this out as you read along. In other words she doesn't ever waffle.
And my last favourite quality is the surprising detail in her descriptions. She reminds me of Toni Morrison in this because she comes up with perspectives on daily tasks that would never have occured to me. She has a very interesting way of  seeing or communicating things.


You may also notice that of this Diamond Club I have only reviewed a couple of the authors. I always seem to procrastinate when it comes to sharing their books perhaps because I subconsciously think I will never do them justice or I will go on and on about their books that it would have no end. The though of boring you to death paralyses me so I dare not.

So instead of holding on to this new addition, I decided to share something of Tracey Chevalier's book, perhaps by next week I will have worked up the skill to adequately articulate the extraordinary love I have for these authors and their books and therefore start giving you some relevant reviews. 

In the meantime I hope, if you've never read Tracey Chevalier, that you will enjoy this one as much as I did. This book is something special. Its a fictional account based on the life of the Dutch painter Vermeer who lived in the mid 1600's.

The Story
One of the best-loved paintings in the world is a mystery. Who is the model and why has she been painted? What is she thinking as she stares out at us? Are her wide eyes and enigmatic half-smile innocent or seductive? And why is she wearing a pearl earring?
Girl With a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer. Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter's attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings - the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings.

In contrast to her work in her master's studio, Griet must carve a place for herself in a chaotic Catholic household run by Vermeer's volatile wife Catharina, his shrewd mother-in-law Maria Thins, and their fiercely loyal maid Tanneke. Six children (and counting) fill out the household, dominated by six-year-old Cornelia, a mischievous girl who sees more than she should.

On the verge of womanhood, Griet also contends with the growing attentions both from a local butcher and from Vermeer's patron, the wealthy van Ruijven. And she has to find her way through this new and strange life outside the loving Protestant family she grew up in, now fragmented by accident and death.

As Griet becomes part of her master's work, their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the ordered household and even - as the scandal seeps out - ripples in the world beyond.


My mother did not tell me they were coming. Afterwards she said she did not want me to appear nervous. I was surprised, for I thought she knew me well. Strangers would think I was calm. I did not cry as a baby. Only my mother would note the tightness along my jaw, the widening of my already wide eyes.
I was chopping vegetables in the kitchen when I heard voices outside our front door -- a woman's, bright as polished brass, and a man's, low and dark like the wood of the table I was working on. They were the kind of voices we heard rarely in our house. I could hear rich carpets in their voices, books and pearls and fur.


I was glad that earlier I had scrubbed the front step so hard.


My mother's voice -- a cooking pot, a flagon -- approached from the front room. They were coming to the kitchen. I pushed the leeks I had been chopping into place, then set the knife on the table, wiped my hands on my apron, and pressed my lips together to smooth them.


My mother appeared in the doorway, her eyes two warnings. Behind her the woman had to duck her head because she was so tall, taller than the man following her.


All of our family, even my father and brother, were small.


The woman looked as if she had been blown about by the wind, although it was a calm day. Her cap was askew so that tiny blond curls escaped and hung about her forehead like bees which she swatted at impatiently several times. Her collar needed straightening and was not as crisp as it could be. She pushed her grey mantle back from her shoulders, and I saw then that under her dark blue dress a baby was growing. It would arrive by the year's end, or before.


The woman's face was like an oval serving plate, flashing at times, dull at others. Her eyes were two light brown buttons, a color I had rarely seen coupled with blond hair. She made a show of watching me hard, but could not fix her attention on me, her eyes darting about the room.


"This is the girl, then," she said abruptly.


"This is my daughter, Griet," my mother replied. I nodded respectfully to the man and woman.


"Well. She's not very big. Is she strong enough?" As the woman turned to look at the man, a fold of her mantle caught the handle of the knife, knocking it off the table so that it spun across the floor.


The woman cried out.


"Catharina," the man said calmly. He spoke her name as if he held cinnamon in his mouth. The woman stopped, making an effort to quiet herself.


I stepped over and picked up the knife, polishing the blade on my apron before placing it back on the table. The knife had brushed against the vegetables. I set a piece of carrot back in its place.


The man was watching me, his eyes grey like the sea. He had a long, angular face, and his expression was steady, in contrast to his wife's, which flickered like a candle. He had no beard or moustache, and I was glad, for it gave him a clean appearance. He wore a black cloak over his shoulders, a white shirt, and a fine lace collar. His hat pressed into hair the color of brick washed by rain.


"What have you been doing here, Griet?" he asked.


I was surprised by the question but knew enough to hide it. "Chopping vegetables, sir. For the soup."


"And why have you laid them out thus?" He tapped his finger on the table.


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. I had used a knife edge to shape each slice, and placed a carrot disk in the center.


The man tapped his finger on the table. "Are they laid out in the order in which they will go into the soup?" he suggested, studying the circle.


"No, sir." I hesitated. I could not say why I had laid out the vegetables as I did. I simply set them as I felt they should be, but I was too frightened to say so to a gentleman.


"I see you have separated the whites," he said, indicating the turnips and onions. "And then the orange and the purple, they do not sit together. Why is that?" He picked up a shred of cabbage and a piece of carrot and shook them like dice in his hand.


I looked at my mother, who nodded slightly.


"The colors fight when they are side by side, sir."


He arched his eyebrows, as if he had not expected such a response. "And do you spend much time setting out the vegetables before you make the soup?"


"Oh, no, sir," I replied, confused. I did not want him to think I was idle.


From the corner of my eye I saw a movement -- my sister, Agnes, was peering round the doorpost and had shaken her head at my response. I did not often lie. I looked down.


The man turned his head slightly and Agnes disappeared. He dropped the pieces of carrot and cabbage into their slices. The cabbage shred fell partly into the onions. I wanted to reach over and tease it into place. I did not, but he knew that I wanted to. He was testing me.


"That's enough prattle," the woman declared. Though she was annoyed with his attention to me, it was me she frowned at. "Tomorrow, then?" She looked at the man before sweeping out of the room, my mother behind her. The man glanced once more at what was to be the soup, then nodded at me and followed the women.


When my mother returned I was sitting by the vegetable wheel. I waited for her to speak. She was hunching her shoulders as if against a winter chill, though it was summer and the kitchen was hot.


"You are to start tomorrow as their maid. If you do well, you will be paid eight stuivers a day. You will live with them."


I pressed my lips together.


"Don't look at me like that, Griet," my mother said. "We have to, now your father has lost his trade."


"Where do they live?"


"On the Oude Langendijck, where it intersects with the Molenpoort."


"Papists' Corner? They're Catholic?"


"You can come home Sundays. They have agreed to that." My mother cupped her hands around the turnips, scooped them up along with some of the cabbage and onions and dropped them into the pot of water waiting on the fire. The pie slices I had made so carefully were ruined.


**


I climbed the stairs to see my father. He was sitting at the front of the attic by the window, where the light touched his face. It was the closest he came now to seeing.


Father had been a tile painter, his fingers still stained blue from painting cupids, maids, soldiers, ships, children, fish, flowers, animals onto white tiles, glazing them, firing them, selling them. One day the kiln exploded, taking his eyes and his trade. He was the lucky one – two other men died.


I sat next to him and held his hand.


"I heard," he said before I could speak. "I heard everything." His hearing had taken the strength from his missing eyes.


I could not think of anything to say that would not sound reproachful.


"I'm sorry, Griet. I would like to have done better for you." The place where his eyes had been, where the doctor had sewn shut the skin, looked sorrowful. "But he is a good gentleman, and fair. He will treat you well." He said nothing about the woman.


"How can you be sure of this, Father? Do you know him?"


"Don't you know who he is?"


"No."


"Do you remember the painting we saw in the Town Hall a few years ago, which van Ruijven was displaying after he bought it? It was a view of Delft, from the Rotterdam and Schiedam Gates. With the sky that took up so much of the painting, and the sunlight on some of the buildings."


"And the paint had sand in it to make the brickwork and the roofs look rough," I added. "And there were long shadows in the water, and tiny people on the shore nearest us."


"That's the one." Father's sockets widened as if he still had eyes and was looking at the painting again.


I remembered it well, remembered thinking that I had stood at that very spot many times and never seen Delft the way the painter had.


"That man was van Ruijven?"


"The patron?" Father chuckled. "No, no, child, not him. That was the painter. Vermeer. That was Johannes Vermeer and his wife. You're to clean his studio."

About the Author

Most know me as the author to Fabulosity Reads and in actual fact, that is the previous name of this blog. I have since then moved my books to a Wordpress self-hosted blog so that I can have a place to show a different side of me which I am equally passionate about and that is marketing and personal development. I hope you will love being here, watching me grow as I share and learn. My highest hope is that we will grown and learn together in all disciplines affecting our lives. I'd LUUURRRVE to hear from you, so don't be shy...

10 comments:

  1. I love Tracy Chevalier as well. I loved Remarkable Creatures.

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  2. Now I want to read the book. Thanks for sharing it with me. It is easy to see how it captured you.

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  3. I just bought a copy of The Lady and The Unicorn and I can't wait to sink my teeth into it.

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  4. Guess I'm going to have to give her a try.

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  5. Yes Richard, you will lol

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  6. Sounds like a fabulous read!

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  7. I read this book several years ago, and was impressed how such a good story surrounded the mystery of the painting. The author painted such a good picture of the time.

    The Diamond Club is an excellent idea. I feel like that about a handful of books too. There are many books that hit all the right notes, so they get 5 stars. But then there are those above and beyond.

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  8. I love the idea of a diamond club and yours has two of my fav authors Jean Auel and Jane Austen.

    I like the description of Tracy's book...will check it out someday soon.

    Thanks for the giveaway...I received J.L Campbell's book copy from Smashwords today. Will read and post a review by monday.

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  9. One of the most attractive things about the book for me was the sexual tension that keeps building in the background but actually never leads to anything because it was somehow "never there" for the people involved (Verneer and Griet). How Tracy does that I don't know but she's genius.

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  10. Yes, Neil Gaiman would definitely be in my Diamond Club, if I had one.

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Email: Wendy.Ewurum@fabulosityreads.com Tel: 071 087 4833 South Africa Twitter: twitter.com/FabulosityReads Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fabmarketingandpr
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