Title: Leaving Van Gogh
Author: Carol Wallace
I've always been intrigued by Vincent Van Gogh. I love his paintings, and I've always found the story of his life to be incredibly tragic. I wonder if he would have been able to balance his genius and live in peace if he lived today. In Leaving Van Gogh, Carol Wallace tells the story of the last year of Van Gogh's life, when he lived in Auvers, outside of Paris, in the care of Dr. Gachet.
I wanted to love this book-- in addition to liking Van Gogh, I've learned a lot about mental health and health care by being married to a doctor, and I thought it was fantastic that Wallace was able to turn her MA thesis into a novel picked up by a major publisher (my own personal pipe dream). I did like the book-- I appreciated the characterization of Gachet as one of the few doctors at the time sympathetic to people with mental illness, but the book was more about Gachet than Van Gogh, which made it a little less interesting. Since the action of the book takes place in the final year of Vincent's life, after the early suicide attempts, after the ear, after the asylum, during the time when his brother Theo is also dying, the reading felt fatalistic. We all knew, even Vincent apparently, that we were marching toward his death, and that it made it hard to read. And when I thought of all of those Van Gogh paintings piled up in sheds and attics and hallways, it made me want to time travel back a hundred years and sneak one for myself.