Leaving Van Gogh [NOOK Book]


In the summer of 1890, in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver.  He died two days later, at the age of thirty-seven, largely unknown despite having completed over two thousand works of art that would go on to become some of the most important and valued in the world.          

In this riveting novel, Carol Wallace brilliantly navigates ...
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Leaving Van Gogh

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In the summer of 1890, in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver.  He died two days later, at the age of thirty-seven, largely unknown despite having completed over two thousand works of art that would go on to become some of the most important and valued in the world.          

In this riveting novel, Carol Wallace brilliantly navigates the mysteries surrounding the master artist’s death, relying on meticulous research to paint an indelible portrait of Van Gogh’s final days—and the friendship that may or may not have destroyed him. Telling Van Gogh’s story from an utterly new perspective—that of his personal physician, Dr. Gachet, specialist in mental illness and great lover of the arts—Wallace allows us to view the legendary painter as we’ve never seen him before.  In our narrator’s eyes, Van Gogh is an irresistible puzzle, a man whose mind, plagued by demons, poses the most potentially rewarding challenge of Gachet’s career. 

Wallace’s narrative brims with suspense and rich psychological insight as it tackles haunting questions about Van Gogh’s fate. A masterly, gripping novel that explores the price of creativity, Leaving Van Gogh is a luminous story about what it means to live authentically, and the power and limits of friendship.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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 Schiffauthor 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

Library Journal
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
Kirkus Reviews

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588369437
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/19/2011
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 342,224
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Carol Wallace is the author of numerous books, including The Official Preppy Handbook, which she coauthored. Leaving Van Gogh is her first historical novel. A graduate of Princeton University, Wallace received a M.A. in art history from Columbia University in 2006. The research for her M.A. thesis provided the foundation for Leaving Van Gogh. Wallace lives in New York.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Interviews & Essays

Dear Readers:

Are you a longtime fan of Vincent van Gogh? If so, you're a step ahead of me. I've always loved art and haunted museums, but until I wrote Leaving Van Gogh I could walk past Vincent's paintings with only a passing glance.

Even now I'm a little bit surprised that I've written a novel about him. I came across Dr. Paul Gachet while I was researching my master's thesis in art history, back in 2005. Gachet was a doctor who treated mental illness in Paris in the late 19th century, and was also a friend of many of the great painters of the era. He seemed like a terrific subject for a novel. I thought I'd write about his collection of paintings, many of which ended up at the Musée d'Orsay.

And what happened? Vincent van Gogh hijacked the narrative. As I was writing, Vincent walked into Dr. Gachet's sitting room in Auvers, France, a village northwest of Paris. He put down his portable easel and paint box, and started to talk. The focus of the novel shifted from the doctor's pictures to the painter's pain. Well, you can understand why. We novelists are looking for drama. We need pressure and conflict. Vincent van Gogh, in May of 1890, was a man under terrible strain. He wanted more than anything else to paint. But he had been mentally ill, confined to an asylum for a year, and he knew that he was still menaced by his demons. That, obviously, was my story.

But before I could write the whole book I needed to do a lot of research. When it became clear that Vincent was going to be the star of the show, I started to read his letters and that is how my affection for him took root. He was such a stoic. He endured such anguish, and scarcely complained. He believed in his art when only his brother Theo and Dr. Gachet shared his enthusiasm. He wrote to Theo, "It is my earnest hope that I am not working for myself alone." He never knew how much he would matter to us all.

Dr. Gachet's side of the story fascinated me, too. It was a period before doctors had many tools to deal with mental illness, but Gachet took a humane and sympathetic stance toward his patients. A man who had always been fascinated by melancholy, he was in some ways the ideal physician for Van Gogh. He was certainly one of Vincent's greatest fans, even after the painter's death.

Genius, madness, suicide – these are some of the big issues running through Leaving Van Gogh. I'd love to know what you and your book club think. If your group of ten or more can set a date that works for me, we can have a discussion by phone. Email me at carolwallacebooks.com to initiate the process of setting this up. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Reading Group Guide

Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace

Reader’s Guide

   1. Gachet assures himself throughout the novel that he was the best doctor for Vincent.  Do you agree?  Do you think he really believes it?
   2. Despite Vincent’s sullenness, quick temper, and irritability, Gachet, Paul, and Marguerite are all drawn to him.  Why do you think that is?  What are their different reasons for being drawn to him?
   3. Discuss the ways in which Vincent’s madness and his genius appear to be interconnected.  How do they clash, and to what extent does one influence the other?
   4. Vincent writes to his brother Theo that he doesn’t think he can “rely on Dr. Gachet in any way…it appears to me he is more ill than I” (144).  What do you make of Vincent’s assessment?  Do you think there is any truth to it? 

   5. How do you think Van Gogh’s mental illness would have been treated if he lived today?
   6. Why do you think Vincent stops being able to paint?  Have you ever experienced a similar loss of creativity?
   7. Gachet is consumed by remorse for his actions at the time of Blanche’s death.  Why does he feel so guilty?  Do you think he did the right thing?
   8. Toward the end of the novel, Gachet wonders if he can trust his son Paul.  What is he worried about?  Do you trust Paul?
   9. Carol Wallace leaves the relationship between Vincent and Marguerite ambiguous.  What do you think might have happened between the two of them?
   10. After Vincent van Gogh’s death, Theo gave away many of the canvases that Vincent had painted in Auvers.  Based on what you’ve read about Theo in Leaving Van Gogh, what do you think his motivations were for giving away the paintings?   What kind of toll do you think his relationship Vincent took on him? Do you think Theo ever had any doubts about his brother’s talents?
   11. Many of the paintings described in the novel are quite famous.  Did you recognize any of them as you were reading?  Do you think of them differently now?
   12. Vincent van Gogh lived a tormented, relatively short life, but today his works are considered to be among the greatest paintings of all time.  How would you measure the success of his life?  Do you think the quality of one’s life is more important than one’s legacy, or the other way around? 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 4, 2011

    Loving VanGogh

    An interesting look at the genius of VanGogh and his painting and also at his relationship with his brother, Theo. Beyond VanGogh personally the focus is on the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness at the end of the nineteenth century. It's a heartbreaking story and one that continues to come back to mind. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is an intriguing biographical fiction

    In 1890, Vincent van Gogh moves to Auvers-sur-Oise, France to paint in the serene rustic environment. His brother Theo asks mental health specialist Dr. Paul Gachet, known for his artistic inclinations, to keep a close watch on his troubled sibling. As a patron of the fine arts, Gachet agrees. The physician finds the artist's work incredible, but fears for the anguished man. He tries to comfort the tormented van Gogh and prepare Vincent's family for the seemingly inevitable as the illnesses that torture van Gogh's mind continue to grow. Ten weeks after the doctor was retained, his only patient committed suicide.

    This is an intriguing biographical fiction that looks at van Gogh through the filter of the real doctor (van Gogh did a portrait of Gachet) who treated him in the months of his life. That perspective allows a fresh view, but also adds a degree of separation from the artist. Still this is a strong historical as Carol Wallace paints a vivid picture of medical profession at the end of the nineteenth century as the doctor struggles to help a difficult talented artist with a strange illness.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Leaving My Will to Live

    Boy it has been a long time since I've disliked a book this much. I've always said the measure by which I determine a book is good or bad is the degree to which I anticipate the ending. In the case of some of my all time favorites, the thinner the space between my current page and the back cover, the more melancholy I become. However, in those cases where I'm not really enjoying the book, that back cover can't come soon enough. In the case of Leaving Van Gogh, I felt like I was on a proverbial hamster wheel submerged in molasses on a reading path to hell. I have never, and I repeat NEVER been so happy, so relieved, so purely liberated then I was when I finished this book. If "boring" was a meal, Leaving Van Gogh was a BOGO special at Old Country Buffet.
    Cleverly disguised as a charming historical fiction novel about one of the more controversial and beloved impressionist painters in history (the cover is even blissful and yes, I often judge a book, etc), this book as actually a ridiculously drawn out report about 19th century mental health treatment. To be fair, that, too, might not have been all bad if not for this author's horrific propensity towards repetition and interminable descriptions of just how depressed Vincent Van Gogh really was. The man fell in love with his cousin, cut off his ear and then painted pictures of giant flowers. I don't know that his mania requires a TON of explanation. Maybe my expectations were completely off center but there is no excuse for just how boring this book is. Pun intended; you'd literally be better advised to watch paint dry

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2011

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    A Painter in a Straitjacket

    What might it feel like to be a brilliant painter wrapped in a straitjacket? Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace, published by Random House, probes the frustration felt by the artist who had been in an insane asylum for a year. The novel is told from the perspective of Dr. Gachet, the artist's psychiatrist, whose own grief and sense of helplessness add to the melancholy that pervades the book. Leaving Van Gogh is a brave, well-researched and compassionate account of the relationship between the two men and the last months of the great painter's life. Wallace aptly portrays enigmatic Vincent Van Gogh, the prolific artist, who painted to quiet the demons in his head and because he felt his art could help the world. Dr. Gachet, psychiatrist and friend, observes a mellow, tender man who experienced occasional flashes of rage followed by despondency. Not a biography of Van Gogh, the book rather traces the relationship between the two men and aptly captures Dr. Gachet's frustration at his futile attempts to treat a man he comes to care about deeply. Ms. Wallace, an art historian, researched not only Van Gogh's 900 letters but also nineteenth century understandings of mental illness. In an interview, she relates how Van Gogh "hijacked the narrative" originally intended to focus on Dr. Gachet. She paints both men with sympathy and clarity. Clouds of sadness mingled with descriptions of dazzling paintings drift over this dark novel about the last year of Vincent Van Gogh's life. I thank LibraryThing and Random House for providing a review copy. The opinions expressed are unbiased and wholly that of the reviewer. Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont

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  • Posted April 17, 2011

    Great Read

    "I held Vincent's skull in my hands yesterday." So starts this beautifully written historical novel about Van Gogh's last days, as seen from the eyes of his physician, Dr. Gachet. Wallace's sensitive, fascinating account of Van Gogh transcends the myths to reveal a sensitive man who was driven to paint in an earnest effort to help others better understand, and be moved by, the natural world around them. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. Just loved it.

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