Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu: Welcome to the 19th-Century Art Scene … with a Twist
In the afterword to his latest book, Sacré Bleu, Christopher Moore says, "I simply set out to write a novel about the color blue." Of course, on one level, he's done just this; but still, on another level, he has created an entirely new spot on which to stand and view a painting in a museum.
Paris, 1890. Word of Vincent van Gogh's death spreads throughout the city. Lucien Lessard, a painter and baker, is shocked. He had attended the same studio as van Gogh and watched his work mature. Lucien is talking to a painter-friend -- Henri Fantin-Latour -- when he sees a long-lost face, a woman he'd once loved -- and been with -- only to have her disappear. Her name is Juliette. Quickly, they pick up where they left off. She even asks Lucien to paint her nude and supplies the paint herself. But while he paints her, something happens: Time jumps, places spin, Lucien begins to forget things; it's apparent something is wrong. This is complicated when, upon some investigation, Lucien and Henri discover that these very anomalies -- the time altering, the forgetting -- have plagued many artists.
A colorman is like the guy from Home Depot who shakes your paint and dabs some color on the can. Except an actual colorman is the one who made the paints; he pounded and crushed gemstones and minerals, flowers and bugs into a powder; he melted the powder into pine rosin, gum mastic, and beeswax; then he mixed it all with linseed oil, and voila -- you've got paint. But there's a colorman in France in Lucien's time -- the Colorman -- who has a more sinister, more violent job. And his weapon? Well, paint of course. Sacred blue paint, to be exact. With his paint, he changes the course of history and mortality. And as the novel progresses, as we're fed more and more about the Colorman, his motives and his origins, it becomes clear that he, the Colorman, and his blue paint are not only the biggest forces in the novel, but also in the lives of the greatest painters ever, as well as our very own protagonist-baker-artist Lucien Lessard.
Sacré Bleu provides a lot of humor, but the most enjoyable part of this novel is its chronicle of the late-nineteenth-century art scene in Paris. Manet and Whistler and Renoir, Monet and Seurat and Pissarro, they all make appearances, bantering and joking at Parisian landmarks, like Moulin Rouge and Tuileries Garden. Moore takes these timeless painters, who have always been names in books and museums, and humanizes them. And not only that, but Moore also weaves their paintings into the narrative, redefining these famous works of art, relocating them in an alternate history, and making us look at them (and the artists who painted them) from another angle.