Monday, November 2, 2009

Review: Sunflowers

Summary: From a talented new author comes a poignant and haunting novel of creation and desire, passion and madness, art and love.

A young prostitute seeking temporary refuge from the brothel, Rachel awakens in a beautiful garden in Arles to discover she is being sketched by a red-haired man in a yellow straw hat. This is no ordinary artist but the eccentric painter Vincent van Gogh—and their meeting marks the beginning of a remarkable relationship. He arrives at their first assignation at No. 1, Rue du Bout d'Arles, with a bouquet of wildflowers and a request to paint her—and before long, a deep, intense attachment grows between Rachel and the gifted, tormented soul.

But the sanctuary Rachel seeks from her own troubled past cannot be found here, for demons war within Vincent's heart and mind. And one shocking act will expose the harsh, inescapable truth about the artist she has grown to love more than life.-- Avon

I can't remember when I first heard about SUNFLOWERS by Sheramy Bundrick, but I immediately knew I wanted to read it. As you already know, I am a huge fan of historical fiction; and I kept hearing this book compared to GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING which I happened to love. I also thought the cover was just stunning -- a picture of Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Needless to say, I had a really strong suspicion that I was going to like SUNFLOWERS; and guess what... I did! SUNFLOWERS captured my attention from the very beginning, and I didn't want to put the book down (even after I finished it.)

To be honest, I really didn't know much about Van Gogh except for that unfortunate ear incident. Of course, I am somewhat familiar with his paintings especially Sunflowers, Irises, and a Starry Night; but I knew little about his life. I guess I knew that he had some mental issues, but I might have just assumed that because he cut off his ear. That's one of the reasons that I was so anxious to read SUNFLOWERS -- I wanted to know more about Vincent Van Gogh. I am so happy to say that I found this fictional account of Van Gogh to be extremely interesting.

What I loved so much about this book was how the author decided to tell Van Gogh's story. While the book was about the last two years of Van Gogh's life -- his art, his love life and especially his mental illness, the story was actually told in first person by Rachel, a prostitute who had fallen in love with Van Gogh. It really was Rachel's story. I thought Ms. Bundrick did an excellent job developing Rachel's character and making the reader sympathize with her.

SUNFLOWERS does give the reader some insight into Van Gogh's troubled life, but I think at the very core, the book was a love story. My heart absolutely went out to Rachel from the first few pages. She was a young girl who was forced into prostitution when both of her parents died. She was immediately swept off her feet by Van Gogh, and she was continually optimistic that he would eventually marry her. She was so devoted to him and even stood by him throughout all of his "episodes." At times, I got frustrated by her naivete and unconditional love for Van Gogh; however, I couldn't help but be reminded of her unfortunate circumstances -- she really just wanted a happy ending. My heart especially went out to her after Van Gogh died. All of her dreams were shattered; butt she still found the strength to go on. I found this book to be tragic in so many ways, yet the book managed leave me with a feeling of hope.

SUNFLOWERS is Ms. Bundrick's first novel and it's just a terrific debut! It's obvious to me that not only did she conduct a lot of research to write this book, but that she is also very passionate about the subject matter. (Ms. Bundrick is an art historian and professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.) I thought she did an amazing job of incorporating the facts of Van Gogh's life into this fictional story; and, I was also impressed with how well she developed the characters. I sincerely hope that Ms. Bundrick is working on her next novel, and I'd love for it to be about another artist!

I know that my book club would absolutely love to read and discuss SUNFLOWERS. I think the basic consensus among our members is that we all enjoy historical fiction, and I think SUNFLOWERS is a great example of a discussion worthy book. There is a seventeen question reading guide in the back of the book which delves further into many of the topics I thought about while reading this novel. Some of the topics for discussion include the meaning of the title SUNFLOWERS, perception versus reality, and mental illness. In addition, many groups would find it fascinating to analyze many of the book's characters and their actions. You can browse inside the book here.

Tonight, Book Club Girl will be talking with Sheramy Bundrick on BlogTalk Radio at 7:00 p.m. ET about her novel SUNFLOWERS. You can listen to the show live here. I found this novel to be so interesting on so many different levels, so I'm really looking forward to hearing the author discuss it with some of her readers. I hope to "see" many of you there.

Thanks to the Book Club Girl for sending me a copy of this novel.

14 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I skimmed over part of your review because I'm in the middle of the book right now. I am loving it too!

Karlie said...

This sounds like a book I would love!

Beth F said...

I too just skimmed your review because I really want to read this. I'll come back for a complete read after I buy and read the book.

Kristen said...

I'm not listening. Lalalalalala. LOL! I have this one sitting next to me here and I don't want to read any reviews until I read it. But I did get enough to know you enjoyed it so that's a positive sign. :-)

Allie said...

Oh wow! I hadn't heard of this book, but I totally want to read it now too. What a great premise!

Jen - devourer of books said...

I've heard SO much good stuff about this book and I was planning to come in here and cry about how my library doesn't have it, but I checked again and they bought it for me, so now I'm doing the happy dance.

Unknown said...

I tend to like this sort of historical fiction, and your review has put this book on my wishlist. Besides, as a proud graduate of USF St. Petersburg, I have to support the efforts of the faculty :-)!

Amused said...

Oh I haven't heard of this book - it sounds great!

HODGEPODGESPV said...

i did read the whole posting and found it very interesting. it does leave curious. thank you for reading it and then posting about it.

Marg said...

I have this book to read, and I am really looking forward to it!

Serena said...

I have to get my hands on this book.

S. Krishna said...

I've heard great things about this one and I'd love to read it at some point. Thanks for the review.

Kelsey said...

I feel exactly the same way as you do too! Check out my review on it: http://goodbookshavenoendings.blogspot.com/

Natalie said...

i just finished this last night! i really liked it (i love going back and reading your reviews when I finally get around to reading the books) as well although sometimes it bothered me that Rachel was so excessively in love with him...but that's love, isn't it? :)