"I did not understand at the time to what extent the way one dies can color people's memories of the way one lived."
This book was given to me by someone very dear to me, and is the subject of someone very dear to me. When I was a kid I used to stare for hours (in kid time, but minutes in real time) at Van Gogh's paintings and be captivated by the vivid splashes of color smeared across the canvas. Most paintings left little to the imagination, but the shear beauty that Vincent brought to simple, humble objects always did, and always will make me smile. You could see the genius in his brushstrokes and if you looked deep enough, you could make out the acute touches of madness harboured within those strokes. I knew back then very little of his calamitous personal story and under appreciated the raw genius that envelopes his work.
Reading this book was like sitting down with an old friend at a sleepy little brick cafe tucked smartly in between a consignment shop and old movie rental store struggling to stay afloat. The comforting essence of Carol Wallace's writing is a real breath of fresh air. She brings a graceful sense of storytelling to the last year or so of Vincent's life and a new approach to one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings: The Portrait of Dr. Gachet (which in 1980 sold for a then record of 82.5 million).
The novel is told through the eyes of Dr. Gachet and teases out the relationship between Gachet and Van Gogh and the tragic events that ultimately led to Vincent's death. Although this book is historical fiction, there is some foundation to this approach as Dr. Gachet was a very enduring advocate for the arts and a mental illness physician. Van Gogh did know Gachet and did live with him for some time, giving the story the historical threads needed to become plausible.
"He was able to create haunting images that reached the heart of the viewer. That was his astounding gift to the world."
I highly recommend not just this book, but also Van Gogh's Women: Vincent's Love Affairs and Journey into Madness by Derek Fell. The story of dear Vincent is one worth learning about and will undoubtedly unlock a new dimension of brilliance for you. Just fair warning though, it is the type of story that will make you want to sneak onto a plane and jet across the pond to Amsterdam, home of the remarkably brilliant Van Gogh Museum. Nothing wrong with a little madness from time to time.