Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Book review: Tulip Fever

Deborah MoggachAmsterdam in the 17th century was a time when commerce was king and the sale of tulip bulbs made some people very rich and others bankrupt. This is the setting for Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, when Rembrandt and Vermeer painted some of the most-recognised art of our time. Sophia’s husband Cornelis is rich, thanks to tulips, and he celebrates his wealth by commissioning a joint portrait to be painted. It is a decision which changes their lives.

The deft switching of viewpoints – and each chapter is a single voice, Sophia, Cornelis, Jan [the painter], Maria [their servant] and Willem [Maria’s lover] – allows for a new take on each situation. The plot moves quickly, things are hinted at and passed over but relevant later. It is the sort of novel which seems simple but has hidden depths. The language can be so sensual. “Jacob van Loos is not painting the old man’s mouth. He is painting Sophia’s lips. He mixes pink on his palette – ochre, grey and carmine – and strokes the paint lovingly on the canvas. She is gazing at him. For a moment, when the old man was talking, her lips curved into a smile – a smile of complicity. He paints the ghost of this, though it is now gone.”

The reader must remain vigilant to catch everything. After four chapters I realised the significance of the quotation at the head of each chapter, and went back to the beginning again. They shed fresh light on the story being told. For example, “‘Trust not to appearances.’ Jacob Cats, Moral Emblems, 1632.” And, another chapter heading, by the same author, ‘Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret places is pleasant.’

In places, Moggach’s description echoes Dutch paintings of the period: “Sophia stands at the window. She is reading the letter. Through the glass, sunlight streams on to her face. Her hair is pulled back from her brow. Tiny pearls nestle in her headband; they catch the light, winking at the severity of her coiffure. She wears a black bodice, shot with lines of velvet and silver. Her dress is violet silk; its pewtery sheen catches the light.” Certainly an understanding of art of the period will help a reader get more from the text.

Shown at the top of this page is the current cover by Vintage, but I prefer the cover of my paperback Vintage edition which dates from 2000. The illustration is a detail from ‘Antea’ by Parmigianino, from the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples. Both are shown below.

Read my review here of Something to Hide by Deborah Moggach and read more about her other books at her website.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton
‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’ by Tracy Chevalier
‘Girl in Hyacinth Blue’ by Susan Vreeland

Tulip Fever’ by Deborah Moggach [UK: Vintage]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
TULIP FEVER by Deborah Moggach #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2sv

#BookReview ‘The Miniaturist’ by @jesskatbee #historical #Amsterdam

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is an intriguing treasure box of a story. Eighteen-year-old Nella starts her new life as a married woman at her husband’s home in Amsterdam. He is a wealthy merchant and it is an arranged marriage. But Nella finds herself in a world she did not expect: a husband never at home, an abrupt and unwelcoming sister-in-law, two servants who behave as if life on the Herengracht is full of secrets. Nella feels always at a disadvantage. Jessie BurtonJohannes Brandt’s wedding gift to his wife is a cabinet, a kind of empty doll’s house for a young woman, a miniature of their home intended to be used by a young woman to learn how to run a home. “The accuracy of the cabinet is eerie, as if the real house has been shrunk, its body sliced in two and its organs revealed.” It frightens her but she is unable to formulate why. There is other disturbing imagery to suggest life in the house is not as it first appears. On the dark walls there are paintings of dead animals and at Nella’s first public outing as a wife, to the Silver Guild dinner, Nella meets Agnes Meermans. Agnes wears pearls in her hair, “The pearls are the same size as milk teeth.” Odd.
Nella orders her first miniature objects from a craftsman, a miniaturist, and the story burst into life after a slowish start. First, the three objects Nella orders are chosen as symbols of defiance against her new life. Secondly, the package is delivered by the intriguing Jack Philips of Bermondsey. Who is Jack, is he the miniaturist? Or does the title of the book refer to Nella? How else does the miniaturist know what is happening in Nella’s home, and her mind?
One thing is clear, everything in this book – and in the house on the Herengracht – is not as it seems. I raced through this.

Read my review of THE CONFESSION, also by Jessie Burton.

If you like this, try:-
Rush Oh!’ by Shirley Barrett
The Penny Heart’ by Martine Bailey
The Knife with the Ivory Handle’ by Cynthia Bruchman

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE MINIATURIST by @jesskatbee #bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-17B