Books: Dutch Double-Dealing; Tulip Fever. by Deborah Moggach (Heinemann, Pounds 14.99). Reviewed by Stephen Harrison

Article excerpt

Interleaved within the pages of Deborah Moggach's latest novel are reproductions of 16 paintings by Dutch 17th-century masters.

Gimmicky this may be - but the trick works.

Moggach's tale is set in outwardly ordered and prosperous Amsterdam when the city was queen of a mercantile empire spanning the trade routes of the world of 350 or so years ago.

Legitimate buying and selling, however, was not the only passion of the city's people of that era.

Burghers with cash to spare were also gripped by the desire to see themselves and their families immortalised on canvas, and get-rich-quick merchants were inflamed by the riches to be gained by mad speculations in the market for tulip bulbs - a horticultural equivalent, say, of today's Lottery fever.

In a prose both elegant and precise, Moggach counterpoints the reproductions of Vermeer and his fellows with her own sketches of scenes from this vanished world. The sketches and the story they unfold is centred on a still older passion - illicit love.

Sophia, the beautiful but unfulfilled young wife of ageing trader Cornelis Sandvoort, casts aside the restraints of respectability and religion in favour of a lusty affair with portrait painter Jan van Loos. …