Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I had some trepidation going into this. I'm a fan of Christopher Moore, but my knowledge of art history is limited to the time I went to the Museum of Fine Art with my high school French class. My art appreciation goes as far as, "Ooh, pretty."
This is not, luckily, a book meant for art majors. It's definitely outside the box I've mentally put Christopher Moore in, but that's a good thing. If I wanted to read everything he's written before, that's what rereading is for.
Sacré Bleu is about the French Post-Impressionists (and some Impressionists—there are flashbacks) and the color blue. It proposes that the famous paintings we admire today were all borne of the same inspiration: an immortal goddess-like figure who produces the most valuable color in the world from her skin by consuming the essence of the artists. It's a bizarre concept, but no more bizarre than horny sea creatures or King Lear told as a comedy.
The book follows Lucien Lessard, a baker and painter and friend of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. The characterization of Toulouse-Lautrec as a frequent patron of brothels and unsavory dance halls and a constant drunk made him difficult to like, but is apparently accurate. I can't tell if Moore was trying to make him likable or not. If he was, he failed. If he wasn't, it clearly didn't detract from the story to have him serving as Lucien's foil. Lucien is responsible and trusting and innocent by comparison, traits which make him an appealing character, and an appealing mark for those with predatory intentions.
The story includes full-color replicas of the paintings within the text, so, luckily, you don't have to try to picture what they're talking about. I took the book out from the library, but I intend to pick up my own copy when I can, for just that reason. It's no coffee table art book, but it's fun to flip through. They're all captioned with a twisted take on the painters' processes, which adds quite a bit to the humor of the novel.
Christopher Moore is best known for his humor, and it can seem subdued in this book. It's mostly the tongue-in-cheek or ironic kind, with few laugh-out-loud moments. There's some crude and juvenile humor, but I got the most amusement out of imagining the way scenes would look to passersby. Moore often juxtaposes absurdity next to people who haven't the slightest what to make of it, to great effect.
If you were worried about picking this up because you fear the subject matter, or you think it might be too dry, go ahead and pick this up. You have nothing to fear. If you already know about art history, you won't learn a thing, and you might even be annoyed by some of the inaccuracies written in for the sake of the story. But if you're hoping to learn something, there is an afterword which clears up a lot of the history.
I think Christopher Moore accomplished more than simply an amusing story outside his usual subjects with this book. I think he's made art more accessible to a lot of modern readers. For that, he deserves kudos.
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