The neatest thing about Girl in Hyacinth Blue was something I only discovered after I finished reading the book and was googling Vermeer online. The book was based on an imaginary Vermeer painting! And if that wasn’t enough, in advance of a Hallmark movie of the book, an artist was commissioned to “fake” this imagined Vermeer!
Why did this strike me as so incredible? Because throughout every chapter of the book, which tells the story of the painting and the hands that it fell into through the years, from the moment of its creation until it ends up in the home of a modern-day Professor who struggles to cope with the fact that he knows his father looted the painting from the home of a Jewish family during World War II, the painting is described in such painstaking detail that it’s almost inconceivable that the painting only exists in the mind of the author. What’s more – the painting is described so well, and so differently, in each of the stories that while I knew it was all about the same painting, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was possible to describe the painting in so many different ways and from so many angles. This is, of course, the highlight of the book – the ability of the author to make the painting mean so much to so many different people, in so many different ways, over the course of hundreds of years. What’s even more incredible is that the author claims that she actually has never seen a real Vermeer!
Like all good books, this book made me want to learn more and read more about the life of Vermeer and to study his paintings more closely and learn more about his life. However, there were many points in the book that I found the juxtaposition of the many stories a bit confusing. While short, the book is also not the type of book you read in one sitting because each chapter is so rich in detail and language and because each story is almost a world unto itself. I was worried at first that the book would be similar to Girl with a Pearl Earring which is also about a Vermeer, but it was unique because it followed the story of the painting throughout history, from owner to owner and Vreeland’s voice is fresh and lyrical. I am intrigued enough by Vreeland’s skill as an author to check out the other books she has written.