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The infamous tale of Van Gogh and his severed ear donated to the local prostitute has always been a fun topic of discussion among art nerds; so here was this art nerd, yours truly, keen to get into what the latest writer had to say about the guy. Van Gogh was your typical VUW student: spends all his money on durries and wine and lives in a degenerate flat in a windy city. He was deep and brooding and thought no one understood him and his art (or BA).
Van Gogh’s Ear is Bernadette Murphy’s desperate attempt to be the next Raymond Chandler. Thinking of herself as a detective figure, she describes and deducts like any cheap detective novel would; convoluted, fluffy, and try-hard. It’s hard to get past the first few chapters — her self-indulgent life stories and anecdotes have next to no relevance to what the title promises. This is a set up for a sleepy and bland read where you have to reach for the fun stuff about one of the most interesting, influential, and controversial artists.
In all fairness, Van Gogh’s Ear is Murphy’s first novel, but it’s infuriatingly obvious. Her style can be jolted and awkward and her descriptions lack creativity. She also had a tendency to repeat herself over, and over, and over again. Murphy, we get it, you reached “dead ends” and had “hot leads” and other classic, half-baked terms.
There are redeeming features — it ain’t all bad. You can learn some interesting stuff from Murphy. Her research process was so long and arduous that it is actually very cool that she discovered and compiled extensive information surrounding Van Gogh. Overall, I would recommend Van Gogh’s Ear to any first year art history student who needs to pick up on their basic art jargon and learn some research skills.