Review – Vincent Van Gogh – The Ambiguity of Insanity

Vincent Van Gogh – The Ambiguity of Insanity
By Giuseppe Cafiero
Genre: Artist Biography & Memoir
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

gc Van Gogh The Ambiguity of Insanity front cover (1)


An abrasive itinerary of the presence of women, the landscape and obsession. Such are the internal paradigms that went through the compelling life of the Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. Not flesh and blood women, but the woman as a guide: Mrs. Jones, the woman as a mother Kee Vos, Christine Hoornik of Siena, Margot Begemann. The Portrait-women such as Augustine Roulin and Madame Ginoux. And then the backgrounds, endless, unforgettable in this genius’ works: Isleworth, Amsterdam, le Borinage, Arles, St. Remy, Auvers-sur-Oise, where Vincent Van Gogh spent his life trying to capture the colors, the atmosphere, the light.

The pain of finitude and his obsession with achieving redemption through art, with intimate and stormy religiosity, with brotherly love, with the French noon sun and, in short, with death. A hard-working and unwavering life where art interacted, in a painful gesture, with the iron will of a hand that never lost its way.

The life of a beloved and devoted man, silenced by the anguish and despair of creation, who could only find peacefulness when found his own death.

Biography (bio-fiction) of the life of the Nineteenth-Century Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. The author, Giuseppe Cafiero, draws a psychological portrait of the Post-Impressionist painter through the women that marked his life and the cities in which he lived.


I recently did a Book Blitz for Sage’s Blog Tours for Vincent Van Gogh, The Ambiguity of Insanity by Giuseppe Cafiero but today I am going to focus on reviewing this title. I always try to do that when I feature a book in a different way other than a review…as a follow-up.

Initially I downloaded this to my kindle to read but found it a bit difficult for this reader to stay interested in while in that format. I’m not quite sure why that was either. It is informative about Van Gogh; I truly did learn quite a bit more about him than I formerly knew. But, I suppose…if I’m truly honest, the continual focus on religion in his life tended to tune me out…and that’s totally my fault, not the author’s.  But, reading on and on about one’s obsession with religion gets a bit dry after a time…for me.

I found my brain had a tendency to wander while Vincent strove to find God in just about everything. But don’t get me wrong, religion does have a place in this book; it was a large focus (aka obsession) of Van Gogh’s life and influenced his daily life and his art in so many ways.  I just had to lasso my brain back into line when it would go “oh look, something shiny”….and try to wander away.

I learned however, after finally putting the book down and downloading the audiobook (knowing this would be the best way for me to digest this material), that this is actually a translation of the original book which was written in Italian.

Ah ha! I thought. Now, I understand why portions of this book just didn’t quite flow for me. It is extremely difficult to translate a book from one language into another and maintain its original flow and feeling; now, having said that I must add that I do feel that the translation is done remarkably well.

Each chapter of the book discusses a specific location and woman in Van Gogh’s life, sometimes circling back around to his obsession with specific people in his life. The reader gets what feels like an up close and personal tour of this artist’s descent into mental illness, right up to the time of his suicide. I can only imagine that he wasn’t an easy person to be around. At least not from the way he is described by Mr. Cafiero.

As for the narration of this book by David McCallion, his narration it is straightforward, clear, and done at a nice pace…but also at times very monotone. Not that I expected the narrator to be playing characters as one might do with other books; it just would have been nice to have felt some animation or passion from the reader at certain times. His somewhat monotone style of reading sometimes had my brain looking for other things to focus on…just as I did while reading.

Objectively this is a very informative book about Vincent Van Gogh’s life. I cannot call it riveting or a page turner, but it is certainly informative. So, if you enjoy learning more about tortured artists this may be a book you want to read or listen to. I enjoyed this author’s other book about Edgar Allen Poe (I have not yet had a chance to write that review), so it’s not the darker subject matter that put me off at all. I just found it to be a bit too dry for my taste and rate it at a 3 out of 5 stars. It’s well written and I liked it well enough, it’s just a tad bit dry.


About Anita Dugan-Moore

This blog gives me the opportunity to talk about the book covers I create for some wonderful authors and share my thoughts on movies and books that I love. Who knows...I may even share some of my own writing on here...or whatever else happens to pop into my mind.
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