The Yellow House by Jeroen Blokhuis and Asja Novak (translator)
|The Yellow House by Jeroen Blokhuis and Asja Novak (translator)|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A brave work, that tries to fit in with what we know about key months in the life of Vincent van Gogh, but inevitably descends into something awkward, and even if that's in keeping it's not a brilliant read.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 130||Date: March 2017|
|Publisher: Holland Park Press|
If you were the needy kind, would you really join in the drumming-out of town of two people accused of murder purely because of their nationality? Would you get a feeling of belonging just because you were there when someone carried a dead dog down off a mountain? The main character in this novel does. But he has something that will really get him noted, well-thought-of, included. He has come to the south of France to set up an artists' collective, where he can live and work alongside his counterparts, who can inspire each other and best each other to create wonderful art. In fact a much-respected guest is on his way now, so surely he can find kinship? The guest's name is, after all, Gauguin. The main character is, of course, Vincent van Gogh…
Those early examples of his ill-thinking and neediness were perhaps not the greatest 'in' to the book – they left me wondering why the author had chosen van Gogh, when he could have been equally served by inventing a friendship-challenged character. But it soon becomes clear why van Gogh is the subject here, with the title subject one of the last two homes of his he was to choose for himself. These are a formative few months at the end of Vincent's life, including the end of key friendships and collaborative times, and of course that incident with part of his ear and a whore…
But those noted story beats, and the hoped-for evocation of the times and the artist at work, are unfortunately subsumed by what we do get. Yes there is a handful of wonderful passages concerning van Gogh at the easel, telling us how to apply paint to jute in van Gogh style, and so on. But the book has to do what the real man did – descent into life in a care home, and more than one bout of madness. If you look at his later output you can see flashes of brilliance, but equally quite a few of his pieces post the yellow house don't work. And I didn't find this working – for me, at least. The woozy spelling out of psychosis was a brave and committed attempt, but didn't compel me, even with the use of first person and present tense. It pulls back from conveying the last few months, but that's probably a good thing – while the Gauguin sections convinced, and had an appropriate clarity, little else did, including the ear piece. I was left with too much of a disconnect with the character for me to really enjoy things, which as an admirer was a pity.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
Katie and the Starry Night by James Mayhew is the way for the very young to see Vincent's output. More maniacal compulsions amongst the artistic – set in the Netherlands – can be had with the wonderful School of Velocity by Eric Beck Rubin.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Yellow House by Jeroen Blokhuis and Asja Novak (translator) at Amazon.com.
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