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Tulip Fever

May 1, 2010

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach takes place in 17th century Holland.  Cornelis Sandvoort hires painter Jan van Loos to paint a portrait of him and his young wife Sophia.  Cornelis is smitten with Sophia, but Sophia is smitten with the painter. The premise obviously reminds the reader of The Girl With the Pearl Earring, but I found that I liked Pearl Earring much more:

  1. Pearl Earring focuses on Vermeer, an actual historical Dutch painter, so when reading the novel, the reader could find the actual paintings that the author was referring to throughout the book.  Tulip Fever’s Dutch painter is fictional, so there are no works to compare to the scenes Moggach describes.  I guess this isn’t a deal breaker, but I did really love that aspect of Pearl Earring because it made it so much more interesting.
  2. Griet and Vermeer’s romance never actually comes to fruition, which makes the plot so tense and suspenseful.  Sophia and Jan rush into a romance after seeing each other twice and it just feels kind of hasty and lusty from the beginning.
  3. Griet’s background and family life are illustrated as well, making the reader understand her situation better.  We are told that Sophia’s family faced hardships, but we’re never introduced to them or given a clear understanding of her background.

After Sophia and Jan begin their clandestined romance, the plot goes crazy – we’ve got gambling, blackmail and ridiculous lies, all topped off with a fake pregnancy and a onion for dinner.  Sound bizarre?  Well, it is.  Tulip Fever certainly wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t not like it. But if I decide to revisit 17th century Holland, I’ll go back with Griet, not Sophia.

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