Merry Wanderer of the Night + TIME


I remember in elementary school my art teacher told my class about an artist named Vincent Van Gogh. She said he cut his ear off and everyone in my class squealed and squirmed and some of us (including me) asked why. I still remember very clearly that my teacher said he did it because he was in love. Later in high school one of my art teachers told me that he was in love with a prostitute. And now in college I took an art history class where my professor told us he cut his ear off, that he was in love with a prostitute, and that he was extremely depressed. I've always been attracted to Van Gogh's painting and curious about his story, so when I saw Sunflowers

by Sheramy Bundrick I knew I had to give it a try. This is the story of Van Gogh, or at least what Bundrick thinks might be the story of Van Gogh. Here's the rub: there is really no information about this prostitute he was in love with, and we don't really know how in love with her he was. So most of this book is just Bundrick's musings.

But I was still glad I read it. There are some beautiful moments where Bundrick tries to recreate what she thinks (from research) is Van Gogh's spirit; "You have years ahead, but one day you'll wake-up and wonder where they went. Don't let the things you want escape you" (39). I just thought that was a fantastic line, and whether Van Gogh said half the things she writes him saying or not, it's still great writing. She does an amazing job of recreating his total obsession with art as well; "But I can't stop. I can do without everything else- money, people, even God- but I can't do without my painting. Even if someday it kills me" (113). But there is something else to that quotation too and it has a lot more to do with Rachel, the prostitute, the main character really, than anything with Van Gogh. We're seeing Van Gogh through Rachel's eyes and in this quotation we can see how in love with painting Van Gogh is, but we can also see that Rachel clearly does not come first in his life. And how must that feel? To love an artistic genius so much you would do anything and everything for him, but to know you will never come first in his life. I think this is something Bundrick really considered when writing this novel and it really shows in the conversations between Rachel and Van Gogh and even the characterization of Rachel herself. What kind of woman is that selfless?

Historically, I also found this novel interesting just because of the way Rachel talks about her job. She talks about how she is regarded as a piece of meat and how she has to pay to have her name removed from a list before she can get another job. But money is too precious and everyone knows she is a prostitute anyway. So she feels very stuck. I also thought it was interesting how she viewed sex in two different ways. Vincent is her lover and she wants to love him just because of that, but the man that come and visit her are just "jobs" she has to do for money. I just think that would be such a strange way to experience sex and love and really even just to live your life.

This is great writing, and lovely characterization, but I still wasn't completely satisfied. The ending wasn't as good as I had hoped for, although I won't go into great detail about that. When I look at this book from a fiction perspective I think it was awesome even though the ending wasn't quite right for me, but from a historical standpoint... the fact that the majority of the book is almost entirely a fabrication makes me a little uncomfortable. But then at the same time that is where Bundrick can really bring her creativity in, and she follows the outline of Van Gogh's life fairly well. Honestly, this is an argument you can make over any historical fiction novel, so I won't dwell on it anymore.

This novel earned a B, if you are interested in art or just like historical fiction I think you will enjoy it.

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Sunflowers + TIME