Who is that mournful man in the painting?
The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet tells the story of Paul Ferdinand Gachet, the subject of one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous portraits: one that shows what the artist called “the heartbroken expression of our times.” But what caused such heartbreak? This thrilling historical novel follows Doctor Gachet from asylums to art galleries, from the bloody siege of Paris to life with van Gogh in Auvers, and from the bunkers of Nazi Germany to a reclusive billionaire in Tokyo, to uncover the secrets behind that grief-stricken smile.
Published 1 August 2018 | Publisher: Eyewear Publishing | RRP: AUD$4.99 (ebook)
My Blurb (3.5 / 5 stars)
I have to admit that I don’t know much about paintings but I’m always fascinated by what stories they could tell. Like Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Kate Forsyth’s Beauty in Thorns, The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet explores not only how this particular painting came to be but also the life of the muse. In addition, The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet also followed on the journey of the painting after it left its painter’s hands and the author’s research into its related history.
At first, I found the alternating chapters with different settings (time, place, and perspective) quite jarring but as I continue to read, becoming immersed in the journey of Doctor Gachet and Van Gogh’s painting, I came to look forward to not only what but where the next chapter will take me to.
The longest chapters were of the life of Doctor Gachet as we learn of his childhood, his marriage and older years. While he lived in a period of turmoil of French history, we really do not hear very much of the world outside of his life. This book is very much focused on Doctor Gachet though of course, only the main turn-points in his life or this book will be a much thicker one. As life goes, his wasn’t a complete tragedy or a most happy one. It’s full of ups and downs and in-betweens but what the painting tells us is that his burden is rather heavy on him.
With the second alternating chapter, there is a narrator (which I assume could be the author) who became fascinated with this painting and the sadness portrayed. He decided to research into the origins of the painting and the subject of said painting. As he shared his research journey, he also shares some life reflections which resulted from his journey.
The last alternating chapter follows the journey of the painting after it was sold. It was displayed in some homes. It missed the Nazi purge and was smuggled out of the country. It was sold for a lot (stress on the ‘lot’) of money. Then, the world seems to have lost its track… Where could it be? Who owns this painting now?
The Afterlives of Doctor Gachet is an immersive tale of life. It is captivating as it draws the readers to follow on this journey of many lives over a long span of time. It is a book to be savoured for its historical value and reflections of life.
Thanks to the author, Sam Meekings, for copy of book in exchange of honest review.
About the author
Sam Meekings grew up near the south coast of England. He took an undergraduate degree in Modern History and English Literature at Mansfield College, Oxford University and, later, a Masters degree in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University. In 2005 he moved to China where he worked as a teacher and editor. He recently moved to Qatar with his wife and family to take up a post as Lecturer in poetry and creative writing at Qatar University. In 2006 and 2007 Sam was longlisted for an Eric Gregory Award for poets under 30.