Provence, May 1889. The hospital of Saint-Paul-de Mausole is home to the mentally ill. An old monastery, it sits at the foot of Les Alpilles mountains amongst wheat fields, herbs and olive groves. For years, the fragile have come here and lived quietly, found rest behind the shutters and high, sun-baked walls.
Tales of the new arrival - his savagery, his paintings, his copper-red hair - are quick to find the warden's wife. From her small white cottage, Jeanne Trabuc watches him - how he sets his easel amongst the trees, the irises and the fields of wheat, and paints in the heat of the day.
Jeanne knows the rules; she knows not to approach the patients at Saint-Paul. But this man - paint-smelling, dirty, troubled and intense - is, she thinks, worth talking to. So ignoring her husband's wishes, the dangers and despite the word mad, Jeanne climbs over the hospital wall. She will find that the painter will change all their lives.
Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew is a beautiful novel about the repercussions of longing, of loneliness and of passion for life. But it's also about love - and how it alters over time.
I think one of the reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that Susan Fletcher manages to write a story about Vincent van Gogh's stay at the hospital of Saint-Paul-de Mausole and his meetings with Jeanne Trabuc, and yet Fletcher doesn't let Vincent take over the story. That could easily have happened, he is a charismatic man, but the book is pretty much Jeanne's story, her recollections about her childhood, her marriage life as she steals away moments to talk to the mad painter. Meetings she is forbidden since her husband doesn't want her to meet the patients, but she does it anyway.
And through the book we get to know Jeanne, the girl she was, and the woman she is now. Her life with her husband, and her three now grown children. It's the meetings with Vincent van Gogh that makes her realize what she is missing in life, he brings the world to her and Jeanne starts to change, and suddenly the silent woman isn't so silent anymore. But, can she make her husband see that the changes are for the good that she is turning into the woman she used to be?
This is a book I'm very glad I read. Fletcher has a way of writing that makes the story come alive, there is a flow in the text and I can easily image everything she has written. She describes the houses, the people, the country, and the paintings well,
I liked this book very much. I liked that the story is about an ordinary woman that for a short while knew one of the greatest painters that have ever lived. I loved the cover to the book with Jeanne and the painting of Starry Night, I didn't know that Vincent van Gogh painted some of his most famous work at the hospital of Saint-Paul-de Mausole including Starry Night.
I want to thank Virago for providing me with a free copy for an honest review!