Girl in Hyacinth Blue

Recently I wrote about periwinkle – a favorite color. Today, I’m sharing another blue. It’s hyacinth, and like periwinkle flowers, the blossoms of a hyacinth are a bit blue, or maybe they’re more violet, but does it really matter? Hyacinth is a beautiful flower, and maybe one of these days I’ll try painting a vase of hyacinth.

Just thinking about hyacinth is putting me in a spring-like mood! But this post isn’t really about spring, nor is it really about hyacinth flowers, nor is it even really about the beautiful hue we know as hyacinth blue.

It’s about a book. The title is Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and it’s a novel written by Susan Vreeland. I came across this novel in a rather unusual way. Our library recently began a new adult reading program. It’s called the “Book Box” program, and like the subscription boxes that have become so popular, a new box is offered each month. Unlike other subscription programs, however, there’s no charge for this box. It includes not only a book to be read and returned, one personally selected just for me, but also a little treat of some sort. This month’s treat was English tea and a “biscuit”.

When signing up for the Book Box program, I was asked to fill out a preferences sheet. I noted the sort of books I would be interested in, marked off those genres that I would not want to read, and listed many of my favorites. I mentioned my interest in history, biographies, and art-related books.

I’ll say that whoever filled my February subscription box did a good job. Girl in Hyacinth Blue is definitely a book I would have chosen myself based on its “book blurb”:

“… a professor invites a colleague to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeer—but why has he hidden this important work for so long?”

Of course I was eager to read this book! For the record, there are only thirty-five Vermeer paintings known to exist, so a story — even a fictional one — about a thirty-sixth painting definitely caught my attention!

The writing is described as “luminous”, and all in all, Girl in Hyacinth Blue was a pleasant read. It was, however, also a disappointment for me.

I won’t give spoilers here, and I don’t regret the time I spent reading the book, but overall it wasn’t all I expected. Despite being well-written, and despite having a few interesting characters along the way, the story didn’t provide any real sense of resolution or satisfaction.

Only my opinion, of course. Of the reviews at Amazon, more than half are 5-star ratings, so there you go. Different readers enjoy different things, and again, yes, I did enjoy the book. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Now, I’ve moved on to another “art novel” — one recommended by fellow blogger, Michelle Lee from My Inspired Life. It is “The Marriage of Opposites” by Alice Hoffman, a fictionalized account of the life of Camille Pissarro. I was able to locate it in our library system and promptly reserved it. Because it’s due back soon, I’ve moved it up my reading list ahead of another recommendation from another blogger. Selma Martin — her blog is Finding the Extra in the Ordinary — told me about Victorine, a novel by Drema Drudge. This is the story of Manet’s model, Victorine, a controversial young woman who aspired to become an artist in her own right.

Perhaps the most famous art novel is Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracey Chevalier. It, too, is about Vermeer and his life. Girl with a Pearl Earring was also made into a film.  I’ve read the novel, but I’ve never seen the film. Maybe that would be a good movie for our next “Friday Date Night“.

We have about 8 inches of snow on the ground right now, so I’ve enjoyed spending time reading by the fireplace. Once I’ve finished my morning projects here in the studio, I’ll head upstairs, grab a book and a cozy blanket, and settle in again with Alice Hoffman’s novel.

I do appreciate all the reading recommendations I’ve received — especially those for novels. I enjoy reading biographies about famous artists, yet while I know fictionalized accounts may not be completely accurate, I find them bringing characters to life in almost magical ways. I love hearing things they might have said, seeing places where they might have gone, and feeling their emotions as though they were my own. Such is the power of a well-written novel.

So… any more “art novels” I should add to my reading list? Please take a moment to comment and share your favorites with me!


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