I Am Rembrandt's DaughterPosted: December 10, 2008
by Lynn Cullen
A while ago, when the Romgi decided it would be more fun to spend 3 months in Korea than propose sooner so we could just get married, I was driving from California to Utah by myself and picked out some audiobooks to help me stay awake. And entertained. One of them was Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I usually stay away from historical fiction – something about it just really bothers me. But I do like Vermeer, and I thought Chevalier’s novel was a rather interesting take on Vermeer’s life and paintings.
I tell you this because I only got I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter because it was basically the same book, but focusing on a different painter, and targeted towards a younger audience. And now I unequivocally reaffirm that I don’t like historical fiction.
Problem #1 with the book is that I predicted both of the major plot twists at least 20 pages before they happened. Again: if I can figure it out, it’s too obvious. I shut off most of my higher thinking powers when I read fiction (perhaps a bad idea, but I firmly believe it lets me enjoy books more easily than I would otherwise), which means that I’m not trying to guess ahead. To have accurately predicted the twists here was immense. And disappointing.
Problem #2 is that the character development went really well until about page 280 (of 230), at which point everyone (excluding the main character, I suppose) completely changed their behavior. The love interest who had been compassionate, warm, and caring suddenly became selfish; the mysterious man who had been standoffish and somewhat rude suddenly became fatherly. Both changes occured within a page of each other. That’s too much at once. I think, given the circumstances, neither change was really necessary, and only served to weaken Cullen’s characters.
Problem #3 is one of the big reasons I avoid historical fiction. Our current ways of thinking were used for 17th-century people in ways that probably aren’t accurate. It seems wrong to assume (very wrong) that society has always been similar to the way it is now, that our views on humanity have remained the same. Example: the main character felt a strong dislike towards some of her richer counterparts because of their lack of compassion for slaves and servants. When the mysterious/fatherly man offers to send a servant to check on the girl’s brother, who has the plague, the girl (sorry, I can’t remember her name) is shocked that the man has so little concern for his servant’s health. Now, they do make a point of saying that slavery has been outlawed in Amsterdam, and I could understand if an adult in the book were passionate about the issue. But an almost-14 year old girl who has clearly not been influenced by any grownups having these attitudes is unrealistic. Just because we feel strongly today about how we treat