on June 11, 2004
This is a beautiful novel. It is extremely well written, the story flows smoothly and the characters are all life like. Of course, it is a biographocal novel, so most of the events and characters are drawn from real life, which makes the task of creating the story easier, but Stone breathes incredible vitality into Van Gogh and those surrounding him. It would be hard to recreate van Gogh's intensity and passion (as well as his descent into madness), but Stone does an admirable job of it. Also, through incredible research Stone takes the reader to the settings of many of Van Gogh's landscapes and introduces many of the subjects of his portraits, which helps someone as ignorant about art as me understand his vision and motivations. I don't see a problem with Stone making up dialogue and some of the scenes in the book, because they make it a richer story and even in authentic biographies, no one has perfect recall of exactly what took place.
I would say this book is not as good as The Agony and The Ecstacy, which is an absolute must read for anyone, but it is a brilliant novel and I will recommend it to everyone, even if you know nothing about art or no particular interest in Van Gogh. You will not be disappointed after reading this book.
Irving Stone is one rare biographers who captures the essence of an artist's efforts to discover his or her real talents in life. In this case, it is the tribulations and triumphs of Vincent Van Gogh which come under the microscope of literary analysis. The story Stone weaves follows the all-too brief life of Van Gogh in mid-19th century Holland as he tries to become the artist that nobody wants him to be: creative, daring, assertive, original and, above all else, true to his own sensibilities. The reader, when embarking on this story, should be aware that Van Gogh is one uneasy character right from the getgo. His tortured mind reveals a classic disposition of wanting to please others before looking after his own personal needs. There were many moments, especially in the earlier parts of his life, when Van Gogh tried to conform to the social and religious mores of his family and community but failed because there was always a little part that held out. Stone spends considerable time defining the intrinsic aspect of Vans Gogh's life - his stubborn artistic temperament - that refused to yield to parental and societal expectations. The story is written in such engagingly casual prose that the reader should have little problem traveling along with Van Gogh as he atttempts to find the medium that would best represent his portrayal of life's mysterious forms. But don't be deceived; there will be moments of high drama and frustration facing the man as he decides to venture further out into realms untested. How mad, or disconnected from reality, does Van Gogh become in this journey? Stone allows the reader a certain latitude in answering that one. A marvelous read that has the potential to raise all kinds of issues as to how modern society tolerates the artists and their various styles of expression.
on May 31, 2004
I was skeptical of the biographical novel, was it going to be cheap Hollywood style melodrama with graphic descriptions of Van Gogh's ear mutilation. No, it was a brilliant book, which illustrated the price for great art better than any book i have ever read. Van Gogh paid a heavy price indeed, his sanity, a normal life , and ultimately his life. It was his passion, his manic passion to create, not to imitate, that fueled his artistic genius. But what was it that inspired his passion to express his true feelings, celebrity, no, money, no he was indifferent ( though a serious sponge) , no it was alienation from the society, rejection by women, perhaps underlying his suffering a deep sense of emptiness. it was this emptiness that ignited his unquenchable passion to create, to express his perception of the world. However, when he had lost his passion for art, he was forced to reencounter his own emptiness, and as you will see, he could not handle this reality.
This book is well written, though at times unrelentlessly depressing, you wait for some small good thing to happen and it never does, or rarely does. You also get a good impression, no pun intended as to how Impressionism was quite a revolutionary art form, ( though now its sadly becoming cliche and yuppiesaque)it avoids technicality while giving a good description of what Impressionism was or i suppose is.
This book left me in tears, and i think anyone would enjoy reading this book .
on September 19, 2000
The accomplishment refers to the writing of Irving Stone. Starting from the collected letters Vincent sent to his younger brother Theo during his life, Stone does something very good: he writes a fictionalized biography without, at the same time, tampering with history. This is a novel as much as a biography. Stone invents dialogues, but they do not become fantasy. Anyway, the book is really moving, I read it 18 years ago and I still remember details of it, much more than some books I read last year. The most important thing about this book is that you get to be inside a great artist's life, being witness to his transformation, from a troubled but well-to-do art merchant (his uncles were among the most important in Europe, his father being a religious man), to his stay at the Netherlands trying to find his soul, to Belgium living in the midst of the terrible poverty of the coal-mine workers (and starting to draw), to Paris, where he dives into artistic life, learning very much in the way; to Arles and days with Gauguin, where his mind starts to go astray, to Auvers. [...] this book is very good indeed. Give it a try and you'll find a life you'll never forget.
on May 11, 2000
Irving Stone is not a "great" biographer. He doesn't provide copious bibliographic details or even pretend particularly to serious scholarship. But he does do his research. What Stone is is a very good storyteller. And the stories he tells, whether about Jack London, Heinrich Schleimann, Michelangelo or Freud, have always entertained and (yes) enriched me. Van Gogh's biography, and it's companion-piece, Dear Theo, are particularly moving accounts of that great, tragic painter. I doubt if any artist ever despaired as deeply or more profoundly than Vincent. Stone captures the pathos of Van Gogh's few moments of exhiliration, followed always by days of dissilusionment and depression. Van Gogh was the saint and prototype of all struggling artists. The penury and neglect he suffered through shouldn't have to be endured by the mangiest stray animal. It's one of God's great ironies (Faulkner's cosmic jester?) that Van Gogh's works are bought by Japanese investors and museum collections for umptold millions, whereas their creator, having climbed down to the last rung of despair, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. If you enjoy this book as much as I did, read Dear Theo. It reveals the extraordinarly tender love the two Van Gogh brothers had for each other. Theo was basically Vincent's sole means of support during the artists's latter years. Unfortunately, Theo was living in boderline poverty himself, had a family, and thus couldn't give much to Vincent save for a little bit of money and a great deal of moral encouragement. Both of these books are infinitely sad, yet the redeeming aspect is that Vincent didn't live his life in vain, as he thought, and that the body of work which has survived ( many paintings were painted over - canvas was a luxury) is a testament to his genius.
on April 27, 2000
"One day you will express yourself and that will justify your existence", said Vincent van gogh's teacher to him. if i start writing about the book, it will wet reams of paper. I have read the book at least fifty times and everytime i derive a different meaning from it. lust for life potrays the kind of life vincent van gogh, the famous painter lived. how he tried to find true love and how he failed. and how he experimented with painting; everytime you read his story, there is a sinking feeling in your heart. you can feel his agony and ecstasy. this book has given me confidence- of being separate and different from the crowd. i have learnt to be an extremist in life, no matter what price i have to pay for it. it has also made me think that i can work as a mason, a clerk or a writer, or as a social activist and still be able to be different and yes.... one day i'll express myself and that will justify my existence. after reading the book, i have sought peace. what i found is ecstasy, anguish, madness and loneliness... the solitary pain that gnaws the heart, but peace i did not find. do i need it? no. No. Never.
on December 31, 1999
Few times have I ever found myself so completely lost in the world of another human being as I did through this book. Irving Stone's work has already been praised thoughout his lifetime. Nonetheless, it is important to know that this is one of those works of art that seems to come from a mythical language that is the source of both truth and creativity, thereby effectively blurring the line separating novel from history while simultaneously enriching both art forms AND the subject. This is why scholars and art lovers alike have read this and enjoyed it so. There will be parts of this work where you will not be able to understand the motivation for van Gogh's actions, or the source of his inspiration. And there will be times when you will swear the book is about you. So profoundly does he capture the soul of the artist- and all artists- and in so doing the communal soul of humanity.
It is impossible not to enjoy this book. If you love Impressionism, Amsterdam/Holland, Paris, art, fine writingng, biography, or any combination of the above- and of course, if you are an artist (I am a writer and musician), this book may change you.
on April 19, 1999
This may sound (in this context) like a million time overused cliche (which it is) but I'd just like to say one thing: READ THIS BOOK. If you'd like to know what defines an amazing life story, read this book. If you have any kind of interest/appreciation for art, or would like to develop one, read this book. If you can appreciate what a being a real person is all about, read this book. If you can appreciate what it means to have guts, read this book. If you just like to read good books, read this book. And if you are a Van Gogh fan DEVOUR this book.
So what I am trying to say here is READ THIS BOOK. It's a very good book, I promise you. Its a very true book, and a very touching book. And its a book that is capable of completely transforming the way you look at Van Gogh and his work. What can I say, knowing what a person felt and thought when he painted a particular painting adds a lot to the way you look at his work. This is especially true with someone like Van Gogh, whose work is initially very difficult to understand and appreciate. So do yourself a big favor:
Read This Great Book!!!!!
on June 2, 1997
Irving Stone's greatest novel, "Lust for Life," traces the life of Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh from his auspicious beginnings as an art dealer in London to his death at age 37 in Auvers in 1890.
The book is considered a 'biographical novel' because, although it is rooted in fact, the author has fictionalized certain details, as well as dialog that can only be imagined. Stone, however had quite an advantage when writing "Lust for Life." He had at his disposal the massive three volume set of "The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh." Van Gogh, after all, was not only one of the greatest painters in history, but also one of most prolific and eloquent writer of letters. When reading "Lust for Life," one can easily find Van Gogh's own words liberally sprinkled throuhgout the dialog, giving a depth of insight into his art and philosophy that no author could ever dream up in a work of pure fiction. Stone seamlessly weaves a literary portrait of Van Gogh that can honestly be called a masterpiece.
Stone opted to skip over undramatic events in Van Gogh's life, such as his brief stay in Drenthe. Instead, he keeps the story moving steadily and sometimes swiftly, over the pricipal events in the artist's stormy life. Such ommisions have unjustly drawn harsh criticism from Van Gogh scholors, who question the wisdom of tampering with history. It must be remembered, however, that the purpose of "Lust for Life" is not to read as a dry, historically accurate biography, but as an entertaining story, which works wonderfully at emphasizing the drama without resorting to prepetuating myths about the artist.
"Lust for Life" works best as pure escapism for anyone wanting to transport themselves into another time. Van Gogh is brought into vivid focus, living and breathing from page to page. Stone has done an incredible job of distilling Van Gogh's personality and presenting in a highly palatable form. No matter how many times the book is read (I have read it nine times) the ending never fails to deliver an emotional whollop that will leave the reader in tears.
I wish all books could be this good.
on November 5, 2001
Lust For Life, first penned by Irving Stone over 60 years ago, still stands out as the definitive biography of Van Gogh despite all the years that have since brought us new books on this man and his art.
One little-known fact about this book is that in researching it back then, Stone was able to interview people who were acquaintances of Van Gogh, including his red-headed friend in Auvers, Dr. Gachet, who also sat for several of his portraits. This alone adds an authenticity to this work which subsequent bios find it tough to equal.
Last summer I vacationed in France, and made a point of visiting several of Vincent's haunts, including Arles, St. Remy and Auvers. I will always remember the bittersweet sight of his grave on the lonely hill above Auvers where Vincent lies next to his beloved brother Theo. Having just read Lust For Life added immeasurably to my experience and understanding of the man and his remarkable, albeit brief, life.