As last year 's year of reading books about art and artists continued, it got harder and harder to find books that looked like they were worth reading. Sometimes you have to take a risk. I did that with Christopher Moore’s Sacre Bleu. I’ve read a Christopher Moore book once before and while it was not awful, it wasn’t my favorite read so I’ve stayed away from Moore’s hugely popular books ever since.
With that in mind, I’m pleased to report that Sacre Bleu was a pleasant surprise. Reading this book was a reminder that books about art and artists tend to be serious, heavy, sometimes dark, frequently depressing, and so on. So this light and frothy supernatural romp was a welcome change.
Here’s the premise: Maybe there’s a reason Van Gogh went crazy and cut off his ear. And maybe his suicide (in which the artist shoots himself in the stomach and then walks a mile to a doctor for treatment) is just a little too suspect to not warrant investigation.
The book opens with news of Van Gogh’s death spreading through Paris. Baker Lucien Lessard, whose father was an acquaintance of many of the great French Impressionist painters, receives the news and immediately feels the need to spread the word. Eventually Lucien is in cahoots with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (with many other cameos from artists of the time) as they find themselves caught up in a mysterious tale.
Central to that tale is a twisted, shriveled character called the Colorman (who peddles artists’ paints like drugs) and the beautiful female muses who are associated with the paint maker. As the book progresses, it takes on a dangerous, supernatural air with loads of surprises. It turns out, that for tens of thousands of years, a mysterious shade of sacre bleu is responsible for some of the world’s greatest paintings. But the artists may have suffered the consequences. In fact the color may have been responsible for some horrible moments in history.
Moore makes the French art world of the late 19th Century a delightful and exciting place where lust, liquor, and artists collide. His take on historical characters is just plain fun. Toulouse-Lautrec is one of the funniest characters I’ve read in a long time, even though the humor is frequently, dare I say it, off color, even blue. The adventure sequences crackle with suspense. The result a funny, pleasurable read about a subject matter that tends toward pomposity.