Set in 17th Century Holland during a period when fortunes could be made by speculating on the value of tulip bulbs, this tells the story of a love affair that goes wrong. The merchant Cornelis is married to Sophia, a young woman half his age - his first wife and children having died. Although she's grateful to him for having given her a comfortable life, Sophia doesn't love her husband, and when a portrait artist is comissioned to make a painting of the couple, they begin an affair and eventually hatch a plan to make their escape.
A nicely constructed story, with plenty of historical background that gives a real flavour of the time: I hadn't really though much before about how much painting there had been going on, and how much it was part of the culture. But despite the title of the book and the story of Jan the artist's attempt to make money by buying and selling bulbs, there wasn't a lot to explain exactly what caused the craze. Maybe it just was its own reason.
The fate of the characters in the book was determined as much by luck as by their plans and schemes: not everything goes to plan. But on the whole, pretty much everyone had a happy - or at least fulfilled - ending, which I liked.
One bit I remembered was the place where the servant girl tells her mistress that she's going to have a baby, and her fiance has left her. Her life is in ruins. The cat, whch was sitting in the kitchen, "opens its pink mouth and yawns. It rises from the crumpled coat and stalks off"
Completed : 10-Jan-2006