With several middle-grade books behind her, Wallace makes her adult fiction debut with an intense look at the last months of Vincent van Gogh through the eyes of Paul Gachet, a doctor specializing in mental illness. In the spring of 1890 Theo van Gogh, Vincent's younger brother, approaches Gachet with a request. Vincent was moving to Auvres, France, to paint and seek peace in the countryside. Theo wants Gachet, who once lived in the region, to supervise his brother. Gachet, a known patron of the arts and an amateur artist himself, agrees and is immediately drawn to van Gogh's luminous work. As the seasons pass he bears witness to the painter's mental anguish and struggles to determine what maladies so consume him. As he watches the artist's troubling downfall, Gachet must determine how best to care for van Gogh—and the family his death would leave in need. Tapping a deep well of research, Wallace paints a portrait of how madness can both make and break a man. But by making the clinical Gachet his narrator, the author pushes readers away, rather than giving them a chance to get to know the haunted figure behind the canvas. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“Riveting…Vincent’s vitality and unique intelligence wash over the reader—much as they do when looking at his paintings. Wallace deepens our thinking about the painter by imagining the conversations he had with Gachet and his family and in the gentle way that she imagines his demeanor between manic episodes...The book is truly delightful.”—Los Angeles Times
“This in-depth look at the final few months of van Gogh’s life offers insight into that damning, draining combination of genius and madness.”—Library Journal
“Van Gogh’s mix of genius and madness continues to fascinate.”—Kirkus Reviews
"A haunting novel of bold strokes and fine-grained gestures, one that resonates long after its last, luminous page. In Carol Wallace’s masterful hands Van Gogh’s pictures spring to life every bit as brilliantly as does the painter himself."—Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life
"How did Carol Wallace do this? Her novel so thrillingly and compassionately illuminates the tragic life of Vincent van Gogh that he is now lodged in my heart like a beloved lost relative. I am awed and enthralled, and so grateful for this perfect blend of artistic authority and suberb storytelling."—Elinor Lipman, author of The Family Man
"Carol Wallace’s new novel is a wonderfully rich exploration of the deep interconnectedness of art and madness, friendship and therapy, hope and despair. And through Wallace’s estimable talent, Vincent van Gogh, one of the most fascinating figures in the history of any art form, acts and speaks and passionately lives with absolute authenticity. Leaving Van Gogh is a remarkable imaginative achievement and an utterly compelling read."—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
"Carol Wallace’s Leaving Van Gogh is an act of wondrous ventriloquism not to be missed: the last months of Vincent van Gogh’s life, narrated by the mysterious and marvelous Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh’s physician, and a tale of love, of madness, of art—and of genius and grief—told with the tender courage of a good friend."—Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
"This sensitively written novel, with its many passages of deep beauty and insight, reveals the tragic Van Gogh as clearly as if he sat across your room. Told by the aging doctor who wants to rectify the one great failure of his own life by saving the distraught artist who perhaps does not wish to be saved, Leaving Van Gogh is a moving and profound book about the preciousness of the gifts of art and love and what we can mean to each other."—Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet
"Beautifully textured, painterly, and insightful—reading this book is like stepping into one of Van Gogh’s paintings."—Rebecca Stott , author of Ghostwalk
"A rich, meticulously researched novel that probes the passion of genius, and the demands of love and friendship. With a painterly eye, Wallace translates Van Gogh’s dazzling canvases into luminous prose and lets the reader see the universe as the great Impressionist did."—Ellen Feldman, author of Lucy and Scottsboro
Parisian psychiatrist Paul Gachet receives an appeal from Theo van Gogh on behalf of his brother, Vincent. A gifted painter with a tortured soul, Vincent has been in and out of asylums for years—perhaps Dr. Gachet, renowned for his work concerning nervous diseases, could provide the medical help that has thus far been lacking? Gachet, himself an amateur painter who believes in the fundamental treatments of good nutrition, fresh air, and a stable atmosphere, invites Vincent to become a guest in his own home in Auvers. Theo has difficulties of his own, yet he unfailingly provides his brother with ample supplies of paint and canvas. Despite their best efforts, Vincent cannot find relief from his maladies. As he becomes increasingly despondent and loses his ability to paint, we see that the end will come too soon for a man with a miraculous talent and far too much sensitivity for this world. Wallace (coauthor, The Official Preppy Handbook) successfully characterizes the inner lives of both the painter and his troubled physician as their paths briefly cross, then diverge. VERDICT While discomfortingly sad, this in-depth look at the final few months of van Gogh's life offers insight into that damning, draining combination of genius and madness. Read this with a volume of van Gogh reprints at your side for reference. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/10.]—Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty., OH
Wallace, who has written 20 mostly humorous or lightweight books since she co-authoredThe Official Preppy Handbook(1980), enters the realm of historical fiction with this novel about Vincent van Gogh.
Like Alyson Richman in The Last Van Gogh (2006), Wallace concentrates on the artist's last days and his involvement with the family of Dr. Gachet. The basic facts are known: Van Gogh spent his last 70 days in Auverspainting a huge number of works before he shot himself; while in Auvers he spent considerable time with Gachet, a widower with two children, Marguerite and Paul. While Richman focused on Vincent's relationship with Gachet's daughter Marguerite—whose portrait he painted as well as Gachet's—Wallace has Gachet narrate. According to him, he has always befriended painters, amassing an impressive collection of impressionist paintings, and dabbles in painting and etching himself. Vincent's brother Theo, who supports Vincent, employs Gachet to watch over the artist. Gachet quickly recognizes the brilliance of Vincent's work. When Vincent's erratic behavior flares, Gachet suggests a "cordial" to soothe him, but Vincent tells Gachet that he must paint to keep sane. Both Marguerite and Paul grow obsessed with Vincent and follow him around. Vincent thinks of Marguerite only as a subject to paint. He becomes furious at Paul when Paul's dog destroys one of his paintings. After Theo comes to visit with his wife and baby, Gachet realizes he has advanced syphilis. But Theo's financial responsibility to his family drives him to keep working as an art dealer even as his health declines. Learning of Theo's condition, Vincent becomes unable to paint. Without painting he has no wish to live. Gachet, still guilty that he refused his consumptive wife's plea to help her die years earlier, decides to help Vincent by leaving his loaded gun where Vincent will find it.
The drama is muted, but van Gogh's mix of genius and madness continues to fascinate.