Following the sudden death of her husband after a short-lived, disastrous marriage, young widow Catrin leaves her stifling life in a small village and moves to Amsterdam to work for a well-connected family. In Holland in 1654, society is evolving rapidly, and new exciting vistas are opening up both for Catrin and her employers. Her new life shows her many things she has dreamed of and a chance to explore her talent for painting. A figure and a secret from her past catch up with her and force her to move on to Delft where she becomes involved in the Delftware potteries and the lives of two brothers. Her painting enables her to work in a way unusual for a woman of her era. Her private life is dramatic and haunted by her past.
This author is apparently well known in the Netherlands, and the novel is translated from Dutch and marketed (in the UK –ed.) for young adults. It mixes fictitious story lines with historic facts, including characters such as the painters Vermeer and Rembrandt and the plague which swept Holland at that time. The narrative is written in the first person and the present tense, which means that events are only seen from Catrin’s point of view. It’s an interesting story, but somehow the drama lacks realism and the style seems a little stilted. The historical elements are wrapped up in a fairly light romance, and the dialogue often seems a little too modern. However, this could be either as a result of translation or deliberate, given that the target market is young people who might be bored by more in-depth historical facts. Overall it is a light and pleasant read about a fascinating period in Dutch history.