Sacre Bleu

Sacre Bleu is the newest book by Christopher Moore, and I have to say, I’m a bit torn by the book.  This book is very different from Moore’s other works, and I’m still going to use the Satire tag for it, but it’s really by the slimmest of margins.  This book is better categorized as a historical Fantasy novel, which is not something I generally read.  The biggest difficulty in describing this book is that I think I would have enjoyed it more if it were written by someone else.  It seems so stylistically different from Moore’s other works (especially his Vampire trilogy) that it doesn’t feel like one of his books.  The only problem with saying that is that if the book had been written by someone else, I wouldn’t have read it.  Anyway, on we go.

Book Stats

394 pages

Satire, Fantasy

Setting

Yes, I’m starting with Setting first for this review, because it really helps to set up the other aspects of the book.  The book is set in Paris in the 1890’s, and many of the characters in the book are famous painters from that place and time.  There are smaller vignettes from other times throughout the book, but it revolves around Paris.

Character

The main character of this book is Lucien Lessard, a young man who works as a baker in Paris.  He is also a bit of an aspiring artist, and in his youth he studied painting with several masters in the area.  Lucien was an interesting character, but really nothing about him stands out to separate him from the story.  To me the most interesting character in the story is Lucien’s friend Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, who was an actual painter living in Paris.  Moore depicts him as being very eccentric and an alcoholic, but he is also the primary source of the humor in the book.  While these two are the central characters of the story, the rest of the characters who inhabit the pages are also very well written.

Plot

The book begins with the suicide/murder of Vincent van Gogh.  In reality his death is considered a suicide, but Moore presents it as a murder, asking why a man would shoot himself and then walk a mile to try and get help.  Moore shows the man, who is simply known as The Colorist, killing van Gogh as he claims van Gogh owes him a painting.  After this we move on to Lucien, who is receiving the news of van Gogh’s death.  As Lucien is telling Henri about van Gogh he meets Juliette, a former model and lover of his.  This is where the book starts to get into the Fantasy elements, as we start to learn about the mystical power behind a certain shade of blue.

Enjoyment

Ok, if the last sentence of the Plot section doesn’t sound quite like me, it’s because I pretty much stole it from the dust jacket for the book.  It’s really difficult to talk about the plot of this book without spoiling parts of it.  The closest book to this in that aspect is probably Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, the primary difference is that this book moves faster in the earlier sections.

In Moore’s afterword for this book, he talks about where the idea came from.  And as odd as it sounds, it all started with him wanting to write a book about the color blue.  The amount of research that he put into this book was staggering, as he looked into the lives of all the painters he depicts (as well as many who didn’t show up in the book).  He did this for several reasons, the first was so that he could try to depict their personalities as they actually were according to their letters and biographies written about them.  And the second was because several scenes in the plot were inspired by actual events in the lives of the artists.

One of the central ideas in the story – the power of the ultramarine blue paint – also stems from history as the pure pigments used to make the paint were for some time more expensive than gold.

But getting back to the book at hand, I really enjoyed it.  I would argue that the central theme of this book is the power of the arts.  Coming from my background, this is a powerful theme for a book.  I am a huge fan of the arts, and at one time or another I’ve studied several different forms of art.  I was a music major for several years in college, and I’ve taken several art classes throughout my education as well.  My study of literature has been more personally driven than academically driven, but I’ve taken quite a few classes that study writing (both recent writing as well as classical, and by classical I mean ancient Greek).

Ah, I almost forgot to mention this part!  Included throughout the book are quite a few paintings done by the artists who compose the cast of the novel.  Moore takes all of these and attaches quotes from his story to them, weaving them beautifully into the overall story.  There are also quite a few times throughout the book where the actual text is printed blue, which is a bit strange at times, but it works with the book.

Overall Grade

An interesting story with a lot of basis in actual history.  A wonderful testament to the power that the arts can have.

8/10

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1 Comment

  1. May 2012 Month in Review « Reviews and Ramblings

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