Wednesday, September 19, 2012

sacré bleu: a comedy d'art

Summary from Amazon: It is the color of the Virgin Mary's cloak, a dazzling pigment desired by artists, an exquisite hue infused with danger, adventure, and perhaps even the supernatural. It is . . . Sacré Bleu. In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life . . . and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help? Who was the crooked little "color man" Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue? These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent's friends—baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec—who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh's untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris. Oh lá lá, quelle surprise, and zut alors! A delectable confection of intrigue, passion, and art history—with cancan girls, baguettes, and fine French cognac thrown in for good measure—Sacré Bleu is another masterpiece of wit and wonder from the one, the only, Christopher Moore.

I really wanted to love this and I suspected that I might. So many elements of the subject matter appeal to me: Paris, Montmartre, the 1890s, the Impressionists, a love story. I also wanted to read something by Christopher Moore, who has been recommended to me by a number of people. 

I did like the book, but I can't say that I loved it. First of all, I really didn't find it funny. Just a few bits humored me (not enough to laugh out loud), and lots of the jokes fell completely flat. Especially the repeated penis jokes. They just weren't funny to me at all. And when your book is called A Comedy d'Art, it really should be funny. Luckily, I've read in a lot of reviews that this is Moore's least funny book and that it's just very different from his other books in general. So I definitely won't be judging his merit as an author on Sacré Bleu

Now that all that's out of the way, here are some things I liked and didn't like about the book:

- The setting (1890s Montmartre, Paris, France).
- The blue type (just blue enough to be noticed, never affecting readability).
- The color photographs of paintings mentioned (invaluable in a book like this!).
- A lot of the characters (Lucien especially, but also Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Renoir, etc.).
- The ending (too many books end in a lackluster or frustrating way, but this one was nearly perfect).
- Moore's explanation at the end of what he made up and what actually happened.

- The love story, sometimes. Highlight here for spoiler! I couldn't get behind Bleu as a heroine or love interest. She's done too much bad for Lucien to truly forgive her. 
 - Some of the jumping around (the story isn't linear and sometimes it got frustrating).
- The story. Whoa! Big one, I know. But while the idea of a magical blue paint appealed to me, I didn't like the explanation and history behind it. Highlight here for spoiler! It took much too long for us to learn why the Colorman and Bleu used the paint. And for immortality? That just didn't cut it for me. The Colorman's life is so unsatisfying, I don't know why he would want to live forever. And the fact that they had to destroy the glorious paintings was just too painful to read about. I think Moore could have come up with a better explanation for the paint . . . Like if the Colorman was a suave, handsome young man living a life of fun and women, and the blue paint was like a drug for the artists and inspired/helped them to paint wonderfully. But the cost of painting so wonderfully was that their bodies would waste away. So instead of the Colorman gaining strength from destroying the paintings, he would gain strength from destroying/killing the artists . . . I just didn't like the explanation behind the paint and when the whole book is riding on that, it's hard to like the story. That is why the book was such a struggle for me. I got bored a lot and frustrated that all these elements I liked (setting, characters) were revolving around a story I wasn't drawn into or convinced of, combined with attempted humor I didn't find funny.

So while the ending tempted me to say I give this book 3.5 stars, I have to stick with 3. I loved some aspects and I really disliked others.

TITLE: Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art
AUTHOR: Christopher Moore
DATE FINISHED: 18 September 2012
VERDICT: 3/5 stars.

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