Monday, May 30, 2011

227 (2011 #32). Leaving Van Gogh

by Carol Wallace

Fascinating historical fiction about the last two months of the life of Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, from the viewpoint of the intriguing physician keeping an eye on him at the time, Paul Gachet.  Author Carol Wallace paints a portrait of Gachet as almost as tormented as his patient, implying that Gachet felt he did not do enough to alleviate the suffering of his wife Blanche before her death - and did not want to make the same mistake with Vincent.

Wallace was inspired to write the novel from research she did for her master's thesis in art history on another artist (French printmaker Charles Meryon) who was also treated by Gachet, a doctor interested in both art (he was an amateur painter and friend to many Impressionists) and mental illness (he did serve at an asylum in 1855 and wrote his thesis on melancholy).

I had to borrow a book from my university library with Van Gogh's paintings, as Wallace's beautifully written and detailed descriptions made me want to see their inspirations for myself.  I'm also planning to read two books I've long owned, Irving Stone's Van Gogh biographical novel Lust for Life, as well as Dear Theo, his compilation of Vincent's letters to his brother (which are now available online along with other letters to, from, and about Van Gogh).

Those letters provided most of the source material for the Van Goghs in Wallace's book.  Her afterword  indicates that "Dr. Gachet left a much less distinct trail.  His son, Paul, is his principal historian, and Paul's reliability is often questioned....His goal at all times is to promote the importance of his father to Van Gogh, Cezanne, and the other painters he knew." (pages 262-263)

The lovely cover features self-portrait sketches done by Van Gogh as well as a background from his 1890 Branch of an Almond Tree in Blossom.

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[This hardbound copy received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program will be donated to my university library.]

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