“But you have to be courageous, my friend, and unafraid of pain. For only through pain will the beauty of the world be revealed.”
Deborah Moggach – Tulip Fever, p. 42
Cornelis Sandvoort, a merchant in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, has married the young and beautiful Sophia. Since the youth of his wife is thrilling and he himself is one of the rich men of Amsterdam, he wishes to be portrayed with her to immortalize them with the help of a canvas. As soon as the painter enters their home, everything changes.
When I finished this book, it left me somehow confused. To be honest, I sat there for a minute wondering what the heck I had just read, just because there were some parts of it that I liked, and some which I really did not.
Starting with the positive aspects of this book: I really liked the depiction of Maria, Willem and Cornelis. I felt for them, I laughed with them and I could picture them in my head as broad as daylight. The way they acted was always true to their characters, they were more or less lovable like a younger sibling. Also, the integration of several artworks into the novel definitely helped to set the mood of the novel. There were passages in the book where I could not stop reading because I wanted to know how the story proceeded. Although I suspected to know where the plot was leading to from an early stage of the book, I still wanted to know the outcome.
But, oh my, there also was so much wrong with this story. In my eyes at least, feel free to disagree! Excuse the rant that will follow now.
First of all, I did not particularly like neither Sophia nor Jan. At least for me, not being able to connect with the main characters of a book is a bad sign, because I feel left out by not being much interested in their fate. There were times where I felt genuinely bad for Sophia’s husband Cornelis and practically wished for Sophia to be detected at some point of the book. Apart from few moments of guilt, Sophia acts like a brat – not caring for anyone but herself. This is why the ending surprised me – although it was a good one, don’t get me wrong, it did not quite fit her character. While, yes, it might be that she completely turned around and changed… but… meh. I did not really see it that way. And oh good lord, the plan which Sophia is concocting whilst being with her lover is just awful. I do not want to spoiler anyone, so I keep it vague. But man, what kind of borderline stupid childish plan was that? The most of the time I was expecting something to go utterly wrong, just because the plan was this stupid and desperate and down-right evil. Maybe I’m exaggerating things by only keeping my modern-world-perspective in mind. But even back then, I simply cannot believe that a plan like this could be pulled off without something going wrong.
Let’s take a big breath and talk about the tulip fever, which is the title of the book and therefore should play a big role in the book. Or not? I somehow expected more of the actual tulip fever to be taking place because it sounded pretty interesting to me. It being used only as a background backup idea (or so it seemed) for Sophia’s plan (grrrr!) was a bit disappointing. I had so many questions: what did it look like when people gambled on tulip bulbs? Why did they gamble all their fortune on a flower? Yes, some of them were special because of their colours, I get that, but why the excitement in the first place? A little bit of background story for explanatory reasons would have been nice. But maybe the Tulip Fever was just meant to be metaphorical and I missed the point, who knows?
What I liked, though, was a part that I am not going to spoil for you, but it is the plot twist that this whole story leads to, and it was somehow tragic and comic at the same time, which somehow sums up my reading experience with this book (picture me staring unbelievingly at those pages before me and laughing in a disturbed and confused way).
It wasn’t a bad book in itself, but you can practically feel the unused potential. In all honesty, I expected much more from this story, since it takes place in a time and place I never read about before and was really excited to get into. Nevertheless, the writing was good and it was – for the most part – enjoyable while it lasted.
What did you think?
This was my first book by Deborah Moggach – have you read any of her books? Are her other works better? I saw the movie adaptation of “The best exotic Marigold Hotel” and it was simply brilliant, so maybe I will give another book of hers a try in the future.
Author: Deborah Moggach
Title: Tulip Fever
Press: Vintage Press (by Penguin Random House UK)
Year of publication: 1999