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Christopher Moore
Sacré Bleu
William Morrow / HarperCollins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-061-77974-9
Publication Date: 04-03-2012
407 Pages; $26.99
Date Reviewed: 04-26-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Fantasy  Horror  General Fiction  

Who — or what — inspires art? What was behind the Impressionists? Christopher Moore offers his thoroughly entertaining take on painting, art, artists and the color blue in 'Sacré Bleu,' a supernatural journey through the lives of Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and pretty much the entire catalogue of those whose works hang in the Louvre. Moore's feel for the history is madcap and detailed, his prose as engagingly funny as ever and his plot pulls the reader along at a fierce pace. Moore's novel captures the joy of both the art and its creation, and not just because he includes lots of penis jokes.

Moore starts, presciently, with the murder of Vincent Van Gogh, where we meet the Colorman; not surprisingly, the latter being a man who sells artists their paints. Soon enough we met the Zelig figure of 'Sacré Bleu,' Lucien Lessard, the son of a Parisian baker who is friends with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and the whole gang of artists who hung out together in the chaotic scene of late 19th century Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec is keen to solve what he is sure is Van Gogh's murder, Lessard finds a new and ineffably beautiful model, the Colorman is never far away, artists tend to die young, and at the center of the mix is the color blue. There are mysteries to be solved, loves to save, lives to save and something not of this earth to unravel.

Moore masterfully sets his tone and scene with perfection early on; between his humorous prose and his eye for detail, he captures the history, then brings the characters and places alive. The book feels packed, full to the brim with an almost pointillist sensibility that is fun to read but also striking and poignant when need be. Moore's light touch feels just right for these people; by not taking himself too seriously, he ensures that we can empathize fully with men (and the artists are all men) whose towering talent might otherwise make them seem remote.

Moore's novel revolves around the mystery of the Colorman, and his protégé, a strikingly beautiful woman. The book is very cleverly constructed, with a plot that unfolds compellingly across several time lines. It's a very enjoyably complicated reading machine, with a very satisfying resolution. Moore has crafted his work to exact the maximum tension as we are immersed in a world of creativity on all levels. He even manages to get in a nice steampunk riff.

Credit Moore and HarperCollins for producing a book with superb color reproductions of the paintings when they need to be there. In a novel about artists and art, it's a joy to see these paintings, placed right into the text where they serve the story best. Moore is not above turning great art into a visual for crude jokes. It all seems very right. Readers will feel as if the artists themselves would approve. The visuals slot well into the story and enhance the reading, rather than distracting the reader.

The most tangible accomplishment is, of course, Moore's ability to render this world with the perfect level of seriousness and levity. It's an incredibly difficult balancing act that readers will never even notice as they whisk through Moore's supernatural mystery, one that leads to some very unexpected but ultimately quite perfect settings. Moore's juvenile humor shows up when it's appropriate, makes you laugh, then characters you give a damn about make you turn the pages faster to find out why what is happening has come to pass.

'Sacré Bleu' is a dazzling historical novel that makes you laugh, think about art and artists, and even includes some actual art. Moore's penchant for the supernatural will certainly have you looking at art with a new set of eyes. Reading 'Sacré Bleu' is a lovely immersion in art, including the art of the novel itself.

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