As you may have noticed, I'm a little obessesed with color. It's important for me to know what the Pantone color of the year is (tangerine tango) and how many store owners look forward to running out of their store bags so they can obsess over what color they will reprint them in? Three cheers for Arctic blue, by the way.
I knew for a long time that Christopher Moore's new novel, Sacré Bleu was about the French Impressionists. I found out about it the same time many of you did, when he came to Boswell in support of his previous novel, Bite Me. Since I have four (sometimes more) Christopher Moore readers on staff, I thought that I would probably wind up reading one of my underdog book events, one that needed my extra support. But when I found out that the book was about the secret powers of the color blue (specifically ultramarine blue), it turned out that I was about to embark on my own Christopher Moore adventure.
I don't know how much research Moore does on his vampire novels, but his new novel, Sacré Bleu, is totally immersed in the French art world of the second half of the 19th century. Its jumping off point is the mysterious suicide of Vincent Van Gogh. Exactly why would he shoot himself, only to then head to a doctor? What if this wasn't really a suicide? And what if his wild spurts of creativity, punctured by mental distress, was a function of the paint.
And not just any paint, but a special blue supplied to him by The Colorman (first name "The") and enhanced by Bleu, the muse. Something seems amiss to Van Gogh's friend Lucien Lessard, a baker/painter who has not been particularly inspired during his life, despite being surrounded by famous artists. But after Van Gogh's death, his old flame Juliette returns, leading to bouts of sexual and artistic creativity. What's going on here? So he teams up with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (you'll forgive me for not using his full name) to figure out exactly what is going on.
And it turns out that many other artists have had similar experiences with paint supplied to them by The Colorman, via their muse. And there are all sorts of mysteries to be solved. Why did the stained glass cathedrals of the middle ages, once festooned with beautiful blue glass, later wind up with a duller tone? And why did so many great artists contract syphilis?
Because of the bigger canvas of this book, and more historical detail and background, I've heard that a couple of early readers found that the setup takes longer for Sacré Bleu. I don't want to give too much away, but I can tell you that the second half of the book becomes more of the combination combination chase, conspiracy, and philosophical joyride that Moore books can be.
I love the way that Moore takes forty years of art history (or perhaps if you think about it, 30,000 years) and creates a crazed reality that still follows the reported facts of what happened with all the artists we know. The advance copy I read was punctuated by black and white reproductions of paintings that are touched on in the story. The first edition of Sacré Bleu will have color plates. Just a warning to you folks who putz around before buying a book you know you're going to read anyway.
The story is filled with all sorts of revelations and humorous asides to keep everything moving along. And Lucien is a classic Moore reluctant hero. I haven't read as many Moores as other Boswellians, but my early read quote from Conrad seemed to confer this. But what perhaps kept me thinking long after the book was over was Moore's take on creativity, and what artists sacrifice for true breakthroughs, and the mental turmoil that often accompanies works of genius. In many ways, it does seem to the resemble the passion and longing that accompanies romantic love and lust.
I'm certainly interested enough to order in some copies of the book that Moore recommends as one of the most readable of his research tools, Sue Roe's The Private Lives of the Impressionists. And now I'm off to buy some blue Sharpies. No surprise, but that's what Moore will be using to sign copies of Sacré Bleu when he appears at Boswell on Wednesday, April 11. It's a free event, I'd come early as last time we had well over 200 attendees.