Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book 19: The Girl in Hyacinth Blue

The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

In The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland traces a painting's history back in time, introducing the reader to its various owners in short vignettes, and ending with stories from the perspectives of first the painter and then the subject. The last owner she introduces is a math teacher at a private school, and he received the painting from his father, a former Nazi who claimed the painting from an apartment after gathering up its Jewish owners in Amsterdam. The painting's current owner believes it is a Vermeer painting that has been lost to the world though he has no documentation to prove it (Vermeer has been fictionalized before in The Girl with the Pearl Earring).

The painting is owned by a variety of people, but all of them love this painting, seeing different things in the girl in blue. For one woman, she represents innocence, for another beauty; one man is reminded of his first love while a young Jewish girl in the occupied Netherlands sees someone equally thoughtful. Some of the stories were definitely more interesting to me than others, such as Hannah, and the family during a flood. However, I have never been a big fan of short stories, and while this is a novel rather than a collection of short stories, I didn't necessarily feel like the stories were that deep. They were vignettes, snapshots of lives, and as a result, I thought the book was pleasant but forgettable - I don't think I would recommend this to anyone, not because it was bad, but because there wasn't that much to it.

I understand that Vreeland was trying to show the influence of art and beauty on life as well as how people interpret art in their own ways, and she succeeded well enough but it wasn't an earth-shattering revelation. I admit that I have also never been a huge fan of the Dutch masters such as Rembrandt or Vermeer, so perhaps part of my reason for not connecting with this book had a lot to do with not connecting with those artists. I believe Vermeer is famous for scenes of domestic life which is what Vreeland appears to have been aiming for herself in this novel. The novel is well-written, many of the stories are well-done but there just wasn't enough for me to really think of this novel as very remarkable. I know I said I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend this novel, but I really don't want anyone to think this was a bad novel or be dissuaded from reading it - for me, it was pleasant, leisurely but not very noteworthy read.

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