Deborah Moggach paints a convincing and resonant portrait of a world poised between religion and secularism, tradition and trade, city and globe. Her appreciation for Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other painters of their ilk infuses her physical descriptions as well as her verbal renderings of visual art. Like the Dutch still lives and portraits from the 17th century, Moggach's novel delves into the relationship between body, sex, mortality, spirit, and art. The voluptuousness of the flesh only draws attention to the transitory nature of love and life, which makes its pleasures even more keen. And this book is a catalog of those pleasures and intensities of the body. Deborah Moggach delves into eating, drinking, screwing, childbearing, nursing. Her diction and imagery are sensual and aestheticized even as her style is spare and lyrical...a combination of fecundity and grace that corresponds with the painting style she is trying to evoke.
The plot is engrossing and perfectly paced. You constantly have a sense of impending doom. The snippets from various characters' points of view convey not only the psychology and perspectives of these players but also glimpses of the larger plot to which their actions contribute, even as the authors of these actions have limited control over their consequences. I also really appreciate Moggach's attention to female characters' desire for control over their lives, their circumscribed agency and mobility, and finally the way that patriarchal and religious ideologies shape their view of themselves.
Tulip Fever is way high up on my list of "The Best Books I've Ever Read." And Tulip Fever is #1 on my list of "All-Time, Incredible, Jaw Dropping Book Endings." It is a fast paced read set during the peak of tulipmania, when a single bulb was more valuable than a mansion or gold. It is a facinating view of the times through the eyes young wife of an older well-to-do businessman, her maid, her lover who is also one of the dutch painters. There are enough twists, turns and surprises to make this a great murder mystery, without a murder. I couldn't put it down during the last third of the book!