A low-key yet powerful picture-book evocation of the final days of an eccentric artist who was both a victim of his own demons and the target of village bullies.
The outcast artist is Vincent Van Gogh. The thoughtful, unnamed narrator of this impressive first-person fictive confessional is an older man who was one of the boys who brutalized Vincent: “In the beautiful countryside in Southern France near the town of Arles long ago, I used to do an ugly thing. / I tormented someone.” In a way that’s neither ham-fisted nor didactic, the young boy’s inchoate fear of the Other in the person of the artist is balanced by his late-in-life regret and guilt. Peacock’s wonderfully paced, poetic text evidences strong understanding of the power of the page turn and how it can masterfully scaffold the storyline. Inclusive backmatter reinforces the impression that Peacock drew on solid scholarship, including Stephen Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s well-received Van Gogh: The Life. The text is balanced with Casson’s sensitive, hand-drawn images augmented with fluent Photoshop-layered colors (intended to evoke the silk-screen technique so admired in Van Gogh’s time). The spreads are given an additional intimacy via a final overworking with pastel.
A brilliant collaboration: simple, resonate, superb. (biographical note, author’s note) (Picture book. 5-8)