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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Van Gogh In Saint Paul De Mausole

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew - Susan Fletcher

Set in Provence at the end of the nineteenth century, this is the story of the arrival of at the hospital of Saint Paul de Mausole of an unusual patient, a painter who has caused outrage in the nearby town of Arles by fraternizing with prostitutes, by wandering into the town completely naked, and by cutting off half his ear. He is, of course, Vincent Van Gogh.

 

But this is not Vincent's story, it is the story of Jeanne Trabuc, wife of the hospital's chief warden, a woman whose world has been steadily diminishing with the departure of her children and her husband's withdrawal into his work. The exotic, unpredictable new patient, and the extraordinary paintings that he produces, changes the way she views her world:

 

Jeanne looks beyond the yard. The sun has caught Les Alpilles, lightening their western sides. In the groves, too, she sees at that moment that the western side of every tree is golden with sunshine, row upon row, and there's a brightness in the depths of the waist-high grass.

 

When she is forbidden to talk to him her frustration provokes a rebellion against the narrow passivity that is expected of her and  a crisis in her marriage.

 

 There is a pleasing sense of authenticity about this novel. Susan Fletcher writes with a delicate intensity, lingering over the small details of domestic life and shining a painterly light on the landscape.