Saturday, December 25, 2010
REVIEW: "Van Gogh, Encore" by John A. Karr
What if... what if Vincent Van Gogh were alive today, in modern times? What if his life took a different turn, if he met someone he could love? What might be in store for him? Van Gogh is famous for his powerful works of art, and infamous for his mental health issues and resulting bizarre behavior. How would that play out in the context of today?
In this work of speculative fiction, John A. Karr portrays the last 18 months of Van Gogh's life in the United States, and presents possibilities of a different future for the troubled, but gifted, artist. Given a different setting and nationality (Van Gogh is Canadian in this book), and a blossoming love with a vivacious woman, Van Gogh gets another chance at life. The book stays true to many facts of Van Gogh's later life- his brother Theo's support, his relationship with Gauguin (including the knife threat and Van Gogh's plan to start an artists' colony), cutting his ear off and offering it to a prostitute, and his battle with mental illness and epilepsy. The author seamlessly and realistically weaves these facts into the new context, creating an engaging read.
At nearly twice the size of the average ebook, this was a page-turner. Descriptive and eloquent, this book really allows you to feel what it might be like to be Van Gogh, to live inside his tormented mind as he attempts to make sense of contradictory stimuli. The author uses carefully selected words and phrasing to portray Van Gogh's thoughts in a way that really highlights his inner turmoil, as well as his artistic passion. The characters were nicely drawn, but the star of this story is really Vincent, whose character is well-established. With regards to other characters, I did find a little hard to believe the love Lynn obviously felt for Vincent. I could understand his attraction to her, but didn't really get why she was so attracted to him. His paintings were genius, but she obviously loved him for much more than that, and his obvious vulnerability didn't seem to me quite enough to explain that love.
This book could use one more editing pass to fix the last mistakes (not enough to be really frustrating, but enough to make note), but overall was engaging and satisfying. A recommended read for anyone who enjoys speculative fiction, or is a fan of Vincent Van Gogh's life and work.
4 /5 stars
Available at Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes & Noble