“The yellow house” by Jeroen Blokhuis – Book Review

Dutch author, Jeroen Blokhuis tells Vincent van Gogh’s story as the artist would have told it. The novel depicts van Gogh’s life when he lived in his beloved ‘yellow house’ in Arles, France between August 1888 and December 1889.

“it’s a beautiful little house”

Vincent’s own depiction of his house in Arles “The Yellow House” (oil on canvas)

Vincent van Gogh has always been a bit of an enigma.  He seemed to be a man who loved people, yet he always felt himself an outcast, an outsider.  He seemed tormented with the longing to ‘belong’, to be a part of a community of friends.  He felt that in this new place, Arles, he would have more of a chance to be accepted as the people had no preconceptions of him and hopefully they would be more open-minded. He loved companionship, never more so than when he shared his ‘yellow house’ in Arles with fellow artist, Paul Gauguin.

The novel makes mention of van Gogh’s use of the perspective frame.  He always struggled with perspective and proportion in his art, and his use of the perspective frame aided him in his endeavors. This practice is more fully explained in this YouTube video.

Jeroen Blokuis tells the story with an artist’s eye. He used detailed description with myriad references to colour, shape, texture, and the nuances of shadow. Van Gogh had a deep admiration for the beauty of nature.

Of van Gogh’s painting “The sunflowers”, Gauguin says “Those sunflowers of yours, are more real than sunflowers”. Van Gogh put the picture in his guest bedroom in Arles, when Gauguin was a guest.

Sunflowers (oil on canvas)

Looking at the artist today, with our 20/20 vision of the man as a true legend, it is interesting to the reader that at one time van Gogh hung his paintings up in a café hoping to attract buyers.  When he didn’t have any money to pay his café bill, he would pay with a painting (for which he got about 23 francs back in 1888)

Van Gogh and Gauguin lived together in harmony for the most part.  Gauguin cooked the meals. They painted together, drank together and even visited brothels together.

depiction of van Gogh’s bedroom in the yellow house

The overlying theme of “The Yellow House” is van Gogh’s loneliness. He feels misunderstood, that he has no ‘true’ friends.  He had dreamed of founding an artist’s colony in Arles, but the idea never came to fruition.  The novel follows the premise that in a fit of despondency after an argument with Gauguin, van Gogh severed part of his ear off with a razor blade. (Other ideas about this subject can be found here.)

The people of Arles fear his volatility and ‘strangeness’.  He is committed to a mental hospital for a year.  He has fantasized that his artist’s colony and his acquaintances will be there to welcome him on his return. Alas, upon his return there is no one to meet him.

“van Gogh was a tortured genius”

The last third of the novel was difficult to read.  As it is told from van Gogh’s point of view and he was depressed and struggled with madness – his thought processes are disjointed. He ended his life at age thirty-seven…

I recommend this biographical novel to anyone who has an interest in art history, and of the iconic Vincent van Gogh in particular.  

From now until May 3rd, there in an international Goodreads giveaway for this novel. If you are interested in reading it I recommend you enter the contest.

Translated from the Dutch by Asja Novak, the novel did not flow seamlessly, but was very enjoyable despite this.  I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from the publisher, Holland Park Press in exchange for my honest review.

I did not study art or art history, but I have always been fascinated by van Gogh.  It is for that reason that I love the popular song by Don McLean called “Starry, starry, night“. I urge you to click on the link as the YouTube video contains many of van Gogh’s art works as a backdrop to Don McLean’s haunting melody and lyrics.

Jeroen Blokhuis is a Dutch author and a Communications Advisor.

He has published short stories in literary magazines and he also wrote booklets for educational publishers and professional publications about content strategy.

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in biographical fiction, Book Reviews, debut novels, Historical fiction, novels in translation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to “The yellow house” by Jeroen Blokhuis – Book Review

  1. Just found this old post of yours. I’ve been reading a lot about Van Gogh lately, so this book sounds interesting. Haven’t come across it before.


    • Fictionophile says:

      I certainly learned a lot about Van Gogh from reading this – even though I realize that it is fiction. It was just published recently.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Myra- watercolor and lettering artist says:

    Do you often write about artists? I really enjoyed this and thanks for the links. I will watch it. I have seen the Impressionism movie and it was amazing.


    • Fictionophile says:

      Do, I don’t often post about artists, but this one took my fancy. I do love art and have several posts on my blog that feature book-themed art.


  3. Sarah says:

    I do have to make sure that you’ve watched the Doctor Who episode with Van Gogh, ‘Vincent and the Doctor.’ Even if you aren’t a fan of Doctor Who (or sci-fi), you really don’t have to know much about the show or its characters (beyond the fact that the Doctor time travels) to appreciate the beauty of the episode. Van Gogh is played so very well, and the whole story from that one quite frankly makes me get teary-eyed every time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Heidi says:

    I don’t read biographies much anymore, but this one sounds fascinating. I would love getting more info on the art. I have two of his pieces in my home. Irises and Starry Night.


    • Fictionophile says:

      I seldom read biographies either Heidi. This one is not really a biography. It is biographical fiction with the author imagining how van Gogh might feel. On another note, my mother’s name was Iris so I might have to pick up a print of van Gogh’s irises.


  5. Julia says:

    Oh wow I really love the sound of this one. I’ll definitely look it up, great review!


  6. skyecaitlin says:

    Although I do not care for Impressionism ( I love Andrew Wyeth), I have always been intrigued by Van Gogh’s lifestyle, and of course by the haunting song by Don McLean; consequently, this books sounds appealing and his room is quite captivating. Thank you for this review.


  7. Reblogged this on The Life & Times of Zoe the Fabulous Feline and commented:
    Just watched the movie…Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh and Anthony Quinn as Paul Gaugain….it was terrific. And when he moved to Arles, my first thought was….what a beautiful house! I’d have loved it myself.


  8. Great post! I’ve always been fascinated by artists of that time period. I may have to look into this!


    • Fictionophile says:

      I hope you do! I learned a lot, not only by reading the novel, but also doing a wee bit of research while writing my review. van Gogh was truly a fascinating though tortured genius!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Have you read Van Gogh’s Ear by Bernadette Murphy? It’s a very good book on Van Gogh. I haven’t read this one but it sounds good. Gogh is my favourite artist so I love reading about him and his life.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s