Vincent Van Gogh is a strange, enigmatic figure on the landscape of modern artistic history. He’s a man who is often reduced to being known only as a mad genius who cut off his own ear.
I was sent this novel by Holland Park Press for honest review, and I think honestly think that you’ll really like this volume, if you’re into art, people, or history. Although a novel, it looks into the time and place of a man’s life and gives a well researched, sympathetic and realistic sense of the man Vincent.
Set in the town of Arles in France during 1888-9, we are introduced into the thoughts and hopes of a man who lives to paint, who dreams of inviting and hosting his painter friends to his yellow house, and having a salon there, but who is also wracked by loneliness. The very nature of his work makes him different from those around him, not only because he paints for a living rather than doing something manual, but also because of the style and liveliness of his paintings which people often don’t understand. He’s also a socially awkward man, whose parents are distant figures, and whose best friend and brother is far away. He’s a foreigner in Arles, both by his personal nature, and by nationality.
And perhaps it can also be said by mental state. As we see the world through Vincent’s eyes, we come to understand how he sees things. Sometimes with great clarity, often through longing for closeness, and sometimes things swirl and blur for him, much like his paintings. It’s not a sensational portrait of madness, it’s a tender one. Van Gogh was a talented man, and perhaps a more sympathetic one than often given credit for. In this book, he’s easy to understand and very relatable, though not emotionally balanced.
As I was reading this, I found myself stopping to click into Google and look at the artists paintings. At one point he is visited by his friend and fellow painter, Gaugin, and there again, I wanted to see the paintings, get further images. It’s a book that provokes a lot of thought, and I was really impressed with the level of detail and the meticulous research that went into the book. It’s very insightful, and I felt very much a sense of the time period and places, as well as the social mileu and mores of the time.
It’s not a very long read, and I enjoyed curling up with it for the hours it took me to read it, with a cup of hot tea as the rain fell outside. It made me think about going to see some of the Van Gogh paintings that are here in London, and once again I felt very sorry for the man struggling with his demons, and feeling very alone, I felt like I learned a lot about the man from reading this book, even though it was just a snapshot of a life and a man.
Read It If: it’s a great read, and is a must buy for those of you who love painters and artists, who love Van Gogh or ever wanted to know more about him, or those of you who like historical stories or mental illness narratives. Beautiful.