Book Review // Tulip Fever

As you may or may not know, I currently live in the lovely city of Norwich; my home town and long-time love. Full of cobbled streets, windy lanes and enough coffee shops to make anyone a 'Lady of Leisure' - Norwich is a wonderful mix of the very very old and the kind of old, which makes it the perfect setting for 2015's big budget period drama Tulip Fever.

My dad was lucky enough to walk past the Norwich cathedral as it's 900 year old cloisters were being transformed into the yard of a 17th Century convent - cattle, orchards, vegetable plots and dozens of lucky extras donning nun habits. Why do I find out about these opportunities too late?! Let's not forget the Harry Potter 7 instance of 2009...

I absolutely love period dramas. They make up most of my DVD collection and as a student of eighteenth century literature I can get totally absorbed in the many folds of muslin whether that's by book or screen. So when I found out Norwich was being used for Tulip Fever, I had to read the book first. To be quite frank, after reading the book I very much hope the film redeems what is undoubtedly a beautifully visual period to detract from the blurred, unrealistic narrative that I found so hard to connect to on an emotional level.

The story is set in 1630's Amsterdam at the height of the Tulip trade. Tulip bulbs, and especially rare ones, sold for astronomical prices one day and pennies the next on a market that fluctuated like a seventeenth century Wall Street. Fortunes were made and lost in a second, and wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort is riding a wave of success. Although many years her senior, Cornelis has married a young girl named Sophia and in the process saved her family from poverty. Cornelis genuinely dotes on his wife, but (surprisingly) her feelings are lacking. When her husband commissions an up-and-coming young artist to paint their portrait, her loyalties are abandoned in order to pursue a new found passion for the painter. Let's just say Sophia wasn't tempted by a sudden penchant for finger painting.

In the first few chapters, the impending affair between Sophia and Jan van Loos promises intrigue, deceit, and a rich internal conflict for Sophia who struggles to reconcile religion with feelings of lust. We've all been there... right?

This was the first time I seriously doubted the historical accuracy of Tulip Fever.

Struggles with religious duty and a heavy emphasis placed on sin, especially adultery, would have seen affairs publicly shamed both by the community and the law. For us in 2014, such ideas seem ridiculous, but the emphasis placed on redemption and piety truly dictated people's behaviour in this period. If her affair were exposed, Sophia's fears of destitution would have been very real. Think Tess of the d'Urbervilles except worse. And in Amsterdam. This makes it all the more surprising that after just a couple of days of self-conflict, she agrees to a series of naughty shenanigans with Jan Van Loos.

Of course, women did have affairs in the 1600's, but they were by no means common and once unearthed, the lady in question would often be rejected from the local community with no hope of financial or emotional support. Not a decision to be taken lightly.

I shan't spoil the novel for you, but let's just say it takes only 50 pages for Sophia to renounce every aspect of her past life.

The other issue that constantly drew me out of the novel was Moggach's laboured use of metaphors. Seriously, at points I was willing the story on.

For instance, Moggach builds one metaphor upon another so often that the very point of meaning has been long explained away. Case and point below:

She stands there, motionless. She is suspended, caught between past and present. She is colour, waiting to be mixed; a painting, ready to be brushed into life. She is a moment, waiting to be fixed for ever under a shiny varnish. Is this a moment of decision?

Dear God I hope so, because you've talked about it long enough.

For the book, I would give a 5/10.

The visuals, the context, the saucy bits and the amazing cast set to star in the film promise so much better. Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifianakis and Judi Dench pretty much ensure a box office success.

Can a film really be better than the book? Let's hope so...

In the mean time, have a look at these images taken from the filming in Norwich. Absolutely dreamy.

Images taken from edp.co.uk

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