The Last Van Gogh

Written by Alyson Richman
Review by Tess Allegra

In 1890, during the last two months of his life, Vincent van Gogh was in the care of Dr. Gachet, a believer in herbs and homeopathy who tried to wean him from the addictive absinthe, giving him tinctures made from wormwood (one of its sources). Dr. Gachet was also a failed painter, and insinuated himself into the lives of patients such as Pissarro and Cézanne when they passed through his care, and accepted their paintings in lieu of money. At an exhibit of the Gachet Collection, Richman alighted on the idea of having Gachet’s daughter, Marguerite, narrate the story of several of van Gogh’s final paintings: herself in the garden and at the piano and, in addition, a third painting only hinted at but never seen publicly.

Marguerite begins her tale of Vincent’s arrival, his effect on the family, and her huge crush on the painter, which she writes was reciprocated. Because this is a fantasy (or is it?), the affair gives the young girl some stature that the paintings could never do in the presence of a stern and sadistic father. Although the writing itself has a modern feel, it is also filled with passion and some history as we see a different, more tender Vincent than the history books recount. Richman did extensive research in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, and paid a visit to two nonagenarians who lived in the village when Marguerite was alive. This novel is an earnest young woman’s account of the love of her life and the blossoming of her soul, sadly entwined with the deterioration of the very person who released her from familial cocoon.