Tulip Fever is a tale about art, love, and breaking the rules. Sophia Sandvoort has never considered straying from the path of faithfulness in her marriage, until her husband Cornelis hired the young, talented painted Jan van Loos to paint their portrait. Once she begins to break the rules, it seems that there is no stopping, and before long, the pair’s lies grow bigger than either of them can control.
Set against the backdrop of ‘Tulipomania’ in 1630s Amsterdam, Moggach’s story captures the imagination from the first page. I loved the way that each chapter was short and sweet, and the way that each scene was described like a painting, in beautiful but not too-long-winded detail. With Moggach’s writing, you dive headfirst into the story, and feel as if you can see, feel, and smell everything that she describes, from the food to the dresses and Amsterdam itself. Each of the characters has a chance to tell the story from their point of view, from the main three, Sophia, Cornelis and Jan, to Sophia’s maid Maria, Jan’s apprentice Jacob and his servant Gerrit (some of my favourite chapters). There are even chapters told by paintings, flower sellers, and seasons. This flitting between characters was done with subtlety and didn’t interrupt the story at all, but rather made it flow perfectly, showing each of the characters’ roles in the story.
From when I picked up the book, I was intrigued by this ‘Tulipomania’. The idea of a nation becoming so obsessed with flowers that men gave up their jobs and risked their livelihoods to nurture and sell them was fascinating. When it finally became intwined with the story, I was thrilled, but I wish that it had played a bigger role, or that we could have seen more of its effects. There were hints of it in the opening chapters, but when it actually did become a part of the story, I felt like it was brushed over a little too much.
There was only one issue that I really had with this book, and that was that I felt like I had simply read it before for much of the first half of the book. If you, like me, have read other books set in a similar period in Amsterdam, also with an emphasis on art or forbidden romances, like Girl With a Pearl Earring or The Miniaturist, it might feel a little repetitive. However, this is more to do with me than the book itself, and once the story had really got going (past the simple, bound to happen love affair), I could see that this story was going along a route that I hadn’t read before. Therefore, if you start doubting whether this book is a repeat of something else, don’t be fooled. The story is thrilling and full of twists and turns, and you won’t regret finishing it off.
Overall, the beautiful writing in Tulip Fever matched with the exciting storyline made it a pleasure to read. I couldn’t get enough of it and couldn’t bear to put the book down. The narrative flows beautifully and not a single word felt out of place. Definitely read this book before the movie is released later this year.