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Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew

por Susan Fletcher

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406624,847 (3.5)1
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.… (mais)
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People go. And some will be remembered, leave their mark. But some will not.

This is the story of Jeanne Trabuc, a real person, the wife of Charles Trabuc, the warden of the Asylum at Saint-Remy, where Vincent Van Gogh received treatment, and where he painted some of his most famous paintings, including Starry Night. The person is real, the novel is fiction, but Susan Fletcher gives us a beautiful portrait of the person Jeanne Trabuc might easily have been. I couldn’t help thinking, when I read the quote above, that Jeanne Trabuc was someone who would have been wholly forgotten had she not come in contact with Van Gogh, who painted her, and thus made her name one that would not be buried in the passage of time.

But, this story is not really about Van Gogh, nor is it entirely about that painting, although the painting plays a part in Jeanne’s story, of course. Against the background of the asylum, a kind of prison in itself, we see the imprisonment of minds and the narrowness of a woman’s married life. Fletcher’s descriptions are wonderful, and early on she gives us a subtle hint about Jeanne’s life and marriage.

The paths have narrowed and the benches are stained by bird droppings and lichen, and as Jeanne walks towards the building itself she can feel her skirt brushing against thistles and irises and a fallen branch, and she thinks of the bars on the windows, the flaking paint and the leather straps and she feels the ring on her finger, turns it with the pad of her thumb.

There are some very poignant moments in the novel, moments to which I could relate entirely, the ones with her father hit very close to home. Jeanne’s love for her father and her three sons was very unselfish, and her relationship with Van Gogh, a man who was ridiculed by the town’s population for both his appearance and his epileptic seizures, was so genuine and kind that it was impossible to feel indifferent to her entrapment. But Susan Fletcher does not write predictably, and there are surprises for the reader that give the story a dimension beyond the obvious ones at the beginning.

There are lovely passages that I marked while reading, that I would absolutely love to share, but I fear they would reveal more of the story than I would care to give away...so, I will simply hope that others will pick up the book and discover the lovely passages and hidden surprises for themselves.

In case it isn’t clear, I am a fan of Susan Fletcher. Her novel Corrag, also titled Witch Light, is one of the best out there. Everyone should read it. She is a surprise writer, because no two of her books are alike. She writes with passion and intelligence, and she often plumbs depths you are not expecting. An added bonus for this book was it centering around Van Gogh, who is a favorite painter and whose life I have always found fascinating.


( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
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 make 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 imagine 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! ( )
  MaraBlaise | Jul 23, 2022 |
Now I must first say that this is a well written atmospheric novel that captures late 19th century Provence and has an engaging story and characters. However, i feel there are drawbacks.

I realise this is fiction based on real people of the past and the author explains that she made changes for "the novel's sake" and that the private histories of the Trabucs, Peyron, Salles and other characters in the novel are entirely fictitious and not meant to correspond to the lives of the real people on which the novel is based.

Yet a key fact that Van Gogh painted Charles Trabuc first and then painted Jeanne Trabuc with it being on van Gogh's initiative not Jeanne's. This is a very significant change and I wonder if a more interesting story has been missed. I suppose the idea is to play up Jeanne's role and this is why the author made this change.

I also found the character of Charles scarcely believable. He seemed to swing between cruel control freak and tender loving husband in the space of a paragraph

What I did find interesting is the painting: Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon which I didn't know. The woman (wearing a yellow dress) walking with a man who looks much like Van Gogh has her hair like Jeanne's portrait and her expansive hand gesture (with their backs to the Alpilles) fits the story. ( )
  Joe_Gargery | Aug 11, 2020 |
I have no idea how this got on my TBR list, but it turned out that it wasn't the book for me. I have read some historical fiction and enjoyed it (namely Beth Powning's work), but I just didn't find a connection with the people or their lives. And the writing itself didn't keep me reading. ( )
  oldblack | Nov 29, 2018 |
A compelling and gentle story set in Provence during 1889 when artist Vincent Van Gogh stayed at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, a hospital for those with mental issues. The main character, however, is not Van Gogh as the reader would expect. This award goes to Jeanne Trabuc, the warden's wife, who is fascinated by the new patient nicknamed 'le fou roux'.

This is a beautifully and cleverly written novel about loneliness, growing older, misunderstandings and the rediscovery of love. It is a combination of fact and brilliantly imagined fiction. The style of writing is very evocative and poetic. The descriptions of Provence, in particular St Remy, are vivid and colourful just like Van Gogh's paintings! The characters are well drawn and realistic. I felt quite a lot of empathy towards Jeanne, she's an endearing personality and has so much love to bestow. I liked her.

An engaging, poignant and absorbing read which I very much enjoyed and an interesting insight, albeit semi-fictional, into a small part of Van Gogh's life.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Little Brown Book Group. ( )
  VanessaCW | Jun 18, 2016 |
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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.

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