Thursday 5 January 2023

Mrs Van Gogh by Caroline Cauchi #MrsVanGogh @Caroline_S @0neMoreChapter_ #BookReview


She’s been painted out of history…until now

Who tells her story?

In 1890, Vincent Van Gogh dies penniless, unknown, a man tortured by his own mind.

Eleven years later his work is exhibited in Paris and his unparalleled talent finally recognised. The tireless efforts of one woman gave the world one of its greatest creative minds.

But twenty-eight year old Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, Vincent’s sister-in-law and the keeper of his immense collection of paintings, sketches and letters, has, until now, been written out of history. This beautiful, moving novel finally gives this extraordinary woman a voice…

Mrs Van Gogh by Caroline Cauchi is published on 2 February 2023 in paperback by One More Chapter. My thanks to the author who sent my copy for review. 

Caroline Cauchi is also known as Caroline Smailes, and Caroline Wallace. I have been reading and loving her books for many years now. She writes in such an eclectic style, contemporary fiction, experimental fiction, and now, with Mrs Van Gogh, she's penned a wonderful, vibrant and utterly engrossing novel of historical fiction. 

I'm a sucker for historical fiction that is based upon real life people and Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger was certainly a woman who acted, spoke and behaved well before her time. The wife of Vincent Van Gogh's older brother Theo, it is Johanna who ensured that Vincent's works of art were brought to the public's attention, after he died. Whilst Van Gogh is now probably one of the best known of the Dutch masters, during his lifetime he lived in poverty. Depending on art-dealer Theo to fund his art, suffering from a severe mental illness, and finally dying so young by suicide. 

Cauchi has done such a large amount of research into Johanna and the brothers, and her author's note explains that whilst many of the events detailed are the truth, there is a lot of information missing, and so, she's created a fictional account of how she sees Johanna, and her impact on the brother's lives. 

Johanna was sent to Paris to stay with her older brother after being dismissed from her teaching post. The only thing that she had done wrong was to fall in love with a wholly unsuitable man. This was the 1880s and whilst men could and did get away with most things, a woman's name could be blackened by such behaviour. 

For Johanna, the chance to spend time in Paris, amongst the up and coming artists, and especially the female artists was a wonderful opportunity that she grasped with both hands. Outspoken and not afraid to say and do exactly what she thought, she soon became part of the Paris scene. Visiting clubs and bars where she saw sights that she couldn't have imagined and met people who inspired and excited her. 

It was the Van Gogh brothers who really changed her life. Theo proposed to her after one meeting, but it was Vincent who intrigued her the most. This rude, obnoxious man who treated her with disdain and said thing to her that were unimaginable, theirs was a love-hate relationship, right up until the end. 

As Vincent descended into his madness and spent time in an asylum, Johanna and Theo married and started a family, yet Vincent was always there, demanding their time and their money. Theo was determined that Vincent's art would be exhibited, and that he would become famous, but events overtook the couple and Theo was never to see this happen. 

However, young Johanna, with a determination of steel ensured that eventually, everyone in the world would appreciate Vincent''s talent. 

This is an extraordinary novel, one that engrossed and fascinated me so much. The writing is so beautifully constructed, the detail is exquisite, and the characters almost jump from the pages. It's a story that will ensure that readers go straight to Google, to find out more about the Van Gogh family. 

The historical elements, including the construction of the now world-famous Eiffel Tower, the inclusion of artists who, during the story are unknown, but now, centuries later are revered and admired world wide adds so much depth and pleasure to this story. 

The novel itself is truly a work of art. It's rich and vivid, the streets of Paris and the inhabitants are skilfully and beautifully drawn.  A must-read novel, detailing the incredible life of a strong and determined woman. 

Dr Caroline Cauchi worked as a university lecturer for several years before turning her hand to fiction. 

With a PhD in Creative Writing, Caroline’s current academic fields of interest are Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, the silencing of women involved in creative pursuits, and the consideration of a novelist’s ethical and moral responsibilities when fictionalising a real life. 

A Maltese mother and a British father, Caroline now lives on the Wirral and is also known as bestselling author Caroline Smailes (THE DROWNING OF ARTHUR BRAXON).

Instagram @caroline_smailes

Twitter @Caroline_S

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