Giving and taking
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.