Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art by Christopher Moore (New York: William Morrow, 2012. 432 pp)

Christopher Moore is the author of eleven novels, including Lamb, A Dirty Job, and You Suck. He grew up in Ohio and attended Ohio State University and Brooks Institute of Photography. He divides his time between San Francisco and Hawaii.

What If?

What if the historical narrative surrounding Vincent van Gogh is incorrect? What if he hadn’t committed suicide? Is it typical for a suicidal person to shoot himself in the chest and then walk a mile to receive medical attention? What if color killed van Gogh? Or, more specifically, van Gogh’s colorman?

With this question, Christopher Moore’s hilarious work, Sacré Bleu, unfolds.

Parisian Painters and the Colorman

In the wake of Vincent van Gogh’s untimely demise, some of Vincent’s Parisian companions begin to wonder what happened. More specifically, Henri Toulouse-Latrec becomes concerned with Vincent’s ravings about a “Colorman,” the standard provider of paints for artists:

“He is here, Henri. The little brown Colorman is here in Arles. And even when I tell him to go away, I still find myself using his color, and my spells become worse. I lose whole days, only to find pictures in my room that I don’t remember painting” (46).

Henri shares his worries with his friend, a baker and aspiring painter named Lucien Lessard. But Henri’s concerns fall on deaf ears, as Lucien has become enamored with his latest muse, a stunning woman named Juliette.

The pair spends ages locked away in Lucien’s studio while he conjures the feminine form from the paint. Juliette provides the paint from the Colorman, and it has an odd effect when in use:

“While Henri had spent the day stalking the mystery of the Colorman, Lucien had spent a week in London looking at art and bonking Juliette in every corner of Kensington” (137).

This book has pictures!

This book has pictures!

Notice the timeline in this witty quotation, Henri spent a day and Lucien spent a week. In a peculiar way, Juliette’s pigments via the Colorman—the sacred blue as we later discover—holds supernatural time-stopping qualities.

As Henri begins to uncover the mysteries of the Colorman and his use of the sacred blue, he believes Juliette is somehow involved and he must remove his friend, Lucien, from a dangerous situation.

What follows is an adventure that meanders through the streets of 1890s Paris, the Impressionist greats who called this city their home in this era, and a supernatural mystery spawning millenniums.

A Novel about Color

With an entertaining tone, Christopher Moore writes an unexpected narrative and ultimately, Sacré Bleu is about a color. Moore doesn’t lie about this. He writes on the opening page,

“This is a story about the color blue. It may dodge and weave, hide and deceive, tale you down paths of love and history and inspiration, but it’s always about blue” (3).

Moore eloquently depicts historical figures and one of the greatest cities on earth. His book is well researched and the story hooks you.

With Humorous Tone

But Moore finds his element when he writes humorously. His characters possess odd sensibilities and he continuously daubs humor in unique and hilarious ways. For example, Henri possesses some great lines as the town alcoholic:

“’Why are you lying on the floor?’
‘Solidarity. And we ran out of cognac. This is my preferred out of cognac posture’” (301).

The humor is a great bonus, but it would go nowhere without an inventive narrative. With Sacré Bleu, Christopher Moore presents an unusual novel with a color as the basic premise. He supposes that Vincent Van Gogh died under questionable circumstances, and then he posits a fantastical story surrounding all the great painters of Paris and their unusual love for the color blue. Funny and unique, Sacré Bleu is worth your time.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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