“I simply set out to write a novel about the color blue; I can’t remember why now. When you start with a concept that vague, you have to narrow your scope fairly quickly or it will get out of hand, so very early in my research great bits of history had to go by the wayside so I’d have room to make stuff up.” – Christopher Moore
And make stuff up he did in SACRÉ BLEU. First, he started with this idea: What if Vincent van Gogh didn’t commit suicide, but instead was murdered? Next, he stirred in many famous artists capering about Paris in the late 1800s: Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissaro, Eugene Henri Paul Gaugin, and --- winner for the longest name --- Count Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautre-Monfa. Then, he took his murder theory and ran with it, having rivers of fun imagining his characters, real and of his invention, debauching, carousing, reveling and losing their days to bouts of intensely drunken stupors, during which time they spout some hysterical observations and indulge in highly bawdy yet hoot-inducing dialogue.
"This was my first exposure to Christopher Moore. I’ll admit, he may be something of an acquired taste, but I acquired a taste for Moore just a few pages into this gorgeous book. Actually, this is more than a mere book; it’s a total reading experience, a carnival of bawdy scenes and a gallery of uproarious repartee."
Young artist Lucien Lessard, who makes his living baking bread in the family bakery, takes up with Toulouse-Lautrec upon hearing the sad news about van Gogh’s death. There’s a bit of speculation about what happened, and then they go back to worrying about their own problems, for the two painters have each lost a woman in addition to their friend. At least, sort of. Toulouse-Lautrec is ruing the disappearance of Carmen, despite his frequent visits to Mireille, his favorite prostitute in the brothel in which he can often be found. An entire week can be lost in a haze of cognac and bedroom pursuits before he semi-sobers up and returns to his quest to find the lovely Carmen, while at least pretending to help Lessard find his lovely Juliette.
During their wanderings, Lautrec and Lessard cross paths with The Colorman, an immoral, amoral, oversexed pigment mixer with a hat-wearing donkey named Etienne. The Colorman’s specialty is the highly-sought-after ultramarine, or the sacre bleu. Everyone wants it. Is this where they got it? Thinking back, they realize that van Gogh said something about The Colorman, and decide it might be wise to pay more attention to the twisted little man. Besides, Lessard’s Juliette seems to be friends with him; hopefully nothing more, but that’s something the painters really must clarify. Thereafter, the action takes several dramatic twists, involving more women, more hangovers and more deaths.
This was my first exposure to Christopher Moore. I’ll admit, he may be something of an acquired taste, but I acquired a taste for Moore just a few pages into this gorgeous book. Actually, this is more than a mere book; it’s a total reading experience, a carnival of bawdy scenes and a gallery of uproarious repartee. At times, I was convinced that the ink itself was blue, different shades in different lights at different times of day. (I’m still not sure that it isn’t.) Plus, you’ll find a bonus of striking color photographs of paintings by many of the artists in the story. Everything conspires together to make this a splendid escape for a few hours, with its cast of thousands --- well, tens really, but you already know most of them. Or at least as seen through Christopher Moore’s eyes as they go through life in a daze of opium, frenzied art and, of course, lust.
SACRÉ BLEU could be called brilliant but for its amazing absurdness. Or, quite possibly, I got that backwards.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on May 11, 2012