Book Review: Sunflowers


Sheramy Bundrick


432 pages

I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral . . . a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or a streetwalker, is more interesting to me.

Vincent to his brother Theo

Antwerp, December 1885

I love when historical fiction focuses on a real person, whether they be famous in some way, such as Vincent Van Gogh, or just an everyday person chosen at random.  Even better when its someone who I know very little about, which is the case with Vincent Van Gogh.  I knew the following facts about him, and as far as I can recollect, that was the extent of my knowledge.

He was an artist

He painted Starry Night

He chopped off his own ear

So you see, I had a lot to learn.

Sunflowers is the story of Van Gogh’s affair with a prostitute, Rachel Courteau, whom he meets when he is studying and painting in Arles.  Rachel is working in a brothel after she had to leave home for compromising herself with a man before marriage.  Van Gogh runs into Rachel one day as he’s painting and immediately begins patronizing her establishment.  Despite warnings from other prostitutes, Rachel becomes smitten with Van Gogh and their relationship blossoms into something much more intimate.  Unfortunately, due in part to the arrival of fellow artist Paul Gaugin, Van Gogh’s demons become more apparent and, as a result, his mental health and his relationship with Rachel begin to detioriorate.

This story was so vivid and I loved the way Bundrick made use of Van Gogh’s letters, the majority of which were to his brother Theo, by heading each chapter with an excerpt from one of Van Gogh’s letters.  She also made much mention of numerous of Van Gogh’s paintings, so that I was able to look up much of his work and see how it was referenced within the book.  Speaking of Van Gogh’s paintings, I also loved how Bundrick made much use of his Sunflowers paintings–much mention is made of them in the book and obviously one of them is used as the cover backround.  I think it is absolutely stunning and just seeing the cover was enough for me to like this book!

I think it can be very difficult to write a book such as this one, especially about someone as well known as Van Gogh.  You don’t want to take too many liberties, however you still need to weave together a cohesive story that is going to draw the reader in.  I think Bundrick did a fabulous job on this front.  From what I can discern, not much is known about Rachel, but for a few tidbits.  Bundrick was still able to create a believable and realistic character that seems to fit in with what we know of both Rachel as well as Van Gogh.  Bundrick also included an author’s note that divulged what tidbits from the book were part of her own imagination and what actually took place.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction or art history, this is a must read.

Other reviews:

Booking Mama

The Literate Housewife

So Many Precious Books, so Little Time

Redlady’s Reading Room

I borrowed this book from my local library

7 Responses

  1. […] the article here: Book Review: Sunflowers « ReviewsbyLola's Blog Tags: actually-took, art-history, […]

  2. Great review. As you already know, I really enjoyed this one too!

  3. It sounds fascinating, especially since I know as little about Van Gogh as you did. Great review!

  4. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  5. Really enjoyed you review. If you want to read something else about Van Gogh, I highly recommend his collection of letters. You’ll learn so much about him through the letters he wrote to his brother.

    I will definitely keep this one on my radar!

  6. Thank you for this great review. I really want to read this.

  7. I’m definitely a fan of both art history and historical fiction, so I’ll have to read this one!! Someday… 🙂

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