Friday, July 8, 2011

Leaving Van Gogh - Wallace

Carol Wallace

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I saw that everyone has heard of Van Gogh, you know, that guy with the pretty sort of impressionist paintings who was missing part of his ear. You probably sited Starry Night as your favorite painting when you were little and didn't know other paintings existed (I did). Leaving Van Gogh is about the last year of Vincent's life. Told from the perspective of Van Gogh's physician - Dr. Gachet - Wallace captures the pain and the occasional joy that marks Vincent's in around the doctor and the work he's creating as well as providing an interesting look into the 19th century's mental health practices.

Leaving Van Gogh was your typical artsy historical fiction. It provided a good insight into his deteriorating mental state and created a very sympathetic character in Vincent. When he's on he's really on, creating art, having interesting conversations, flirting with young woman, the usual for an artistic mad man. It's this Vincent that makes the novel so haunting. He is so aware of the other part of him, the depressed part that has fits and scares people that when he's just a normal man he is so passive and apologetic. Wallace's portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh is definitely what make's this story.

While Vincent is an important character, it is Dr. Gachet who the story is actually about. We see everything through his eyes as he interacts with the Van Gogh family, works on his own art and tries to make a happy home for his children. With that said, Gachet's obsession with mental illness can detract from the story. As the novel progresses the reader finds themselves spending more and more time inside Gachet's memories of sanitariums and on his wife's fight with TB.  While these insights are interesting at the start, they become more self involved and less relevant as they take away from the present situation with Vincent. The main issue I found with these memories was that constantly changed the pace of the novel. Leaving Van Gogh started out as a quick, smooth read but around the half way mark I found myself shooting through the present day and struggling to get through the flash backs.

Overall Leaving Van Gogh is a good read, especially if you're interested in Van Gogh's art or the mental health system in the 1800's. At 288 pages it is a short and thought provoking summer read.


Kate said...

Nice! I added this to my wishlist. Also, I linked your review in my Friday Five over at Kate's Library.

Nina said...

This year I had to study lots of paintings in my Art History Class and we learned a lot of his paintings. :) It sounds very interesting! I'm adding it to my tbrlist. :)