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The Last Van Gogh Paperback – October 3, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Richman (The Mask Carver's Son; Swedish Tango) speculates in her third novel that Vincent Van Gogh found his muse in the 21-year-old daughter of his last doctor. Marguerite Gachet, accustomed to her father's revolving door of artist patients (Cezanne, Pissarro, Bernard among them), finds herself enamored of the disheveled Van Gogh ("a rare blend of vulnerability and bravado") shortly after his arrival at her father's home in Auvers, where Van Gogh undergoes treatment for his manifold illnesses. Though Marguerite is little more than a servant to her father, a failed painter turned physician who prides himself to an absurd extent on his art collection, she manages, with the help of her cloistered half-sister, to begin a covert flirtation with Van Gogh. Between sitting—thrice—for Van Gogh and carrying on her household duties, Marguerite uncovers a family secret and has a clandestine rendezvous with the painter. Though Marguerite's frustrated love is carefully rendered, other characters are mostly memorable for their quirks (her father, the failed painter; her brother, the goofy sycophant; her half-sister, the gold-hearted sage). The climax may be a bit breathless, but, then again, Van Gogh isn't remembered for his subtlety. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

Vincent van Gogh ends his life in a French village under the care of Dr. Gachet, who treats his patients and himself with holistic concoctions of herbs. Gachet's daughter, Marguerite, lives a circumscribed life of domestic duties in a rather peculiar household. She finds joy in her garden and her music and, upon the arrival of Van Gogh, the excitement that his presence brings. To her father's dismay, she is the one the painter seeks as a model, rather than her more favored brother. Marguerite serves as narrator, and though unschooled and naive, her passion and clarity shine through. She finds love, but it is not destined for a happy ending. Marguerite does achieve a sort of immortality through Van Gogh's portraits of her, but except for the secret that she holds close, her life is lonely and bereft. Richman captures the flavor of the period and the nature of her characters in a story that will appeal to many. Danise Hoover
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (October 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 042521267X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425212677
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alyson Richman is the internationally bestselling author of the The Garden of Letters, The Lost Wife, The Last Van Gogh, The Rhythm of Memory (previously published as Swedish Tango) and The Mask Carver's Son. Her novels have been translated into eighteen languages and are known for their rich historical and artistic detail. She is currently working on her sixth novel about the French courtesan Marthe de Florian and the mystery surrounding her Paris apartment which remained locked for over seventy years.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Erminia Mcccready on October 16, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I might have had a slight curiosity about the Post Impressionist painter that cut off his ear. But reading this historical novel peaked my interest. Ms. Richman's writing got me so caught up in the story that I found my self looking up every painting mentioned. I even went as far as to try and match specific descriptive passages to specific paintings, drawings, etc. The description of Mr. Van Gogh's suffering and his need to complete each painting was made so real to me. This novel has left a lasting impression.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
By Gustav Seliger on November 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Last Van Gogh, is a compelling, visually powerful , and beautifully written novel of the last two months of Vincent Van Gogh's life which he spent in Auvers ,while being treated by Dr. Gachet, a homeopathic physician of dubious reputation. It is a work of historical fiction about the strange Gachet household . During this time Van Gogh painted many of his finest paintings and Ms. Richman's vivid description of the brush stokes and colors of these paintings made me want to immediately view them. The doomed short love affair of the very ill artist with Marguerite Gachet is riveting and tragic .. I highly reccomend it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Linda Pagliuco VINE VOICE on June 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Marguerite is 21 when Vincent Van Gogh arrives at her father's door for medical/psychological treatment. Dr. Gachet practices from his home, so Marguerite has ample opportunity to interact with the artist. She is drawn to Vincent, who is enormously talented but emotionally fragile, and in a very short time, they fall in love, in spite of the disapproval of her father and brother. Their romance is the pivot around which this novel revolves.

What works best in this story is the depiction of the plight of women around the turn of the twentieth century. Dr. Gachet, as portrayed here, is an incredibly selfish man with questionable personal and professional ethics. The life of Marguerite, as well as those of her father's mistress and illegitimate daughter, are under his absolute control, which he wields with chilling disregard for their own preferences or ambitions. He cultivates artists as patients because it gives him access to their paintings, which he covets and accepts as payment. He makes liberal use of homemade herbal tinctures with limited understanding their pharmacology.

What does not work particularly well is the author's characterization of Vincent, who in this book serves as the catalyst for Marguerite's story and not as a fully developed protagonist. His tragic struggle with depression is described rather than shown, and he comes across as more ghostly than vibrant in the scenes in which he is physically present.

The Last Van Gogh is a bittersweet love story, but those wishing to know more about the artist will find little of value here.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John G. Comas on January 27, 2007
Format: Paperback
Alyson Richman has clearly figured out what the ideal mixture is for a transcendent book.

Begin with a fascinating historical subject, add equal parts impeccable research and a gorgeous love story, and mix all of that together with brilliant writing and, viola, you will wind up with The Last Van Gogh.

The story details Vincent Van Gogh's days at Auvers while under the care of Dr. Paul Gachet. The tale is told through the eyes of Gachet's daughter, Marguerite, with whom Richman speculates Van Gogh had a love affair with while he was adding the final pieces of art work to his oeuvre.

This clandestine affair is genuinely affecting, as it was deeply passionate and one that gave Margerite her only taste of true love. However, as with anything to do with Van Gogh, it was ultimately doomed. Along the way, Marguerite will experience the joys and sorrows of love and the reader will experience them with her with a great deal of empathy.

The story is narrated in vivid detail, capturing the essence of France in the 19th Century perfectly and making the reader feel not as if he's reading a book, but as if he's actually in Auvers watching the action as it unfolds. The love affair plays out in an extremely suspenseful fashion, allowing for a book that nearly turns its own pages. As I tore through the novel's final 50 pages, feeling as breathless as the story's protagonist, I realized, upon completion, that this was a story which would stay with me for many years to come. I am already looking forward to rereading it.

Truly, this is Richman's best work to date and one of the best books I have read in years. It is a book you can recommend to anyone who can understand the written word and, while I utter this with a bit of hyperbole, is a book worth learning to read for.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on October 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
In 1890 an ailing Vincent van Gogh arrives at Auvers-sur-Oise, France seeking help from homeopathic Dr. Gachet. The artist finds an odd household awaits him as the widower physician has two children, twenty years old suppressed daughter Marguerite and a younger brother of no consequence to Vincent. The child also has governess Madame Chevalier, whom van Gogh assumes is the doctor's mistress. Finally, Chevalier's adult daughter Louise-Josephine joins the mix.

A talented pianist Marguerite finds a connection to van Gogh as she would love to escape her gilded cage and see the world. She thinks the frail van Gogh might be her ticket. The painter also likes the youthful enthusiasm of the young woman and asks her father if he can paint her. Obtaining permission, he begins a series of paintings that depict a girl becoming a woman but also emphasizes her loneliness. As they begin a tryst, he tells her he cannot marry her, but gives her a painting of her to keep before her father realizes what is happening and locks her way; not long afterward van Gogh killed himself.

This historical fiction actually centers more on Marguerite than on van Gogh with the premise being that she was his muse during his last seventy days of life, in which he provided an extraordinary explosion of masterpieces. The story line is intriguing; however, the support cast (including van Gogh) comes across as more fascinating and fuller than the lead protagonist. Still the vivid colorful look at the final days brings the era to life along with some insight into the demons eating at the artist. Readers of biographical fiction will enjoy this account of the LAST VAN GOGH from the perspective of his final inspiration.

Harriet Klausner
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