Review: Vincent and Theo

The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers’ lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers.
By this point, all of you should be painfully familiar with the fact that I adore historic ficition. Not only is it typically very descritpitoive and vidiv, but it also allows even the most arbitrary of plots to be at least mildly education! I’m all for reading simple, easily consumed novels, but I especially enjoy when the seemingly straight-forward novels secretly teach you something.

Let me tell you, Vincent and Theo was not a simple novel, by any means. It was simultaniously captivating, and incredibly hard to read. This book is, in fact, non-fiction. It’s contents are based almost entirley on the Van Gogh brother’s letters to and from each other, which allows for a very intimate view into their psyche, family, and general lifestyle. However, it is also written as a novel.

Non-fiction can easily be written in a detached, academic way, that allows the reader to purely ‘look in’ on the story, and detach themselves from the contents. That was not the case here; Vincent and Theo was written in such an intimate, emotional way (still remaining true to the original source material’s emotion) that it would force even the most reluctant of non-fiction readers to feel a connection with the Van Gogh brothers.

This is the kind of novel that is important. I am not a fan of Hamilton (the musical) for a variety of reasons that I could write a whole paper on. However, I love how it allows people, who otherwise would have little interest in history, to get a bit of a connection to it. That is the same thing here (except, you know, this book is actually accurate, haha. Sorry.).

But, it was hard to read. Anyone who knows even a bit about Van Gogh knows that the dude was troubled. And, this novel looks into that very deeply. It was heartbreaking to read, considering it was just a few decades later that innovation started to occur in the treatment of mental health. Both brothers had very tragic ends, that will leave every reader hurting. Heiligman also threw in some very interesting tidbits I had never heard; like, the fact maybe Vincent didn’t cut his own ear off! This novel was a prime example of how many people only know what they’ve been told about when there is much more to the picture.

All in all, in case you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this book! Make sure to check out the blog on Sunday, as I have a very exciting and related interview publishing that day… 😉

4.5 out of 5.


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