Thursday, February 23, 2012
Sacre Bleu, by Christopher Moore
The heart of Sacre Bleu is mystery. It starts with Vincent van Gogh's mysterious death--always believed to be suicide--and Moore uses this as a jumping off point for what might be the real mystery of the novel: what inspires painters to paint? Why do they sacrifice so much for their art? What is their inspiration, their muse? The lead character is a young baker and aspiring painter named Lucien, who along with his friend, the painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, set out to find out what really happened to van Gogh. What they encounter along the way is a strange figure known only as The Colorman, who somehow controls artists with his special blue paint, known as Sacre Bleu, and a woman, Juliette--the love of Lucien's life--who may be the biggest mystery of all.
I've been a fan of Christopher Moore since the beginning. There's is an everyday man quality about his books, they don't take themselves too seriously, and you can tell Moore had fun writing them (well, he makes himself laugh, I bet. The actual writing is hard work). Moore's humor--his silliness--comes across to the reader. No matter what the subject, his fans can always count on his silly humor to break through, especially in the character's banter. Lucien and Toulouse-Lautrec are fabulous characters together, especially the bawdy, womanizing (harlotizing?), party animal Toulouse-Lautrec. Moore also does a great job of bringing the secondary historical characters/painters to life. (A neat addition to the novel is the inclusion of the actual works of art being discussed by the characters [of course the captions are funny lines of dialogue from the novel], which brings the reader further into the world of 1890s Paris art.)
The thing I admire about Moore is, though he's found a niche for himself with his comic/horror/supernatural novels, he hasn't locked himself into one particular realm. He could have stuck to writing funny vampire novels and been successful at that. Instead, he challenges himself to tackle other subjects--sacred subjects at that—like Shakespeare, religion, and now art, specifically the Impressionists of late 19th Century France. This might be Moore's most mature work yet. Yes, there is still his trademark fantastical element present, and his wacky humor. But the writing, the depth of the characters, and Moore's obvious appreciation of the art (and the heart and soul that went into creating the paintings) shines through.