‘Sacré Bleu’ by Christopher Moore
In attempting to describe Christopher Moore’s novel Sacré Bleu, the best I could come up with was a string of keywords: nineteenth-century Paris; imaginative fiction; art history; fanboy; murder mystery; blue (color). Lots of blue.
In the most basic sense, Sacré Bleu is about a couple of guys ineptly investigating their good friend’s suicide in the French countryside and eventually stumbling onto a fantastical conspiracy that has spurred on creativity and invention for millennia. This plot is enriched by the fact that the suicidal friend is Vincent van Gogh and one of the guys investigating is Henri Toulouse-Lautrec who, despite his artistic talents, is perhaps not the best person for the job. Something is rotten with the color blue and our heroes are going to figure out what.
It’s a hugely entertaining novel. Moore’s writing is utterly immersive, plopping you down right in the middle of the action and making you feel every twist and turn. And it’s quite a twisty book, with numerous flashbacks ranging from last year to the dawn of time (and one particularly meaningful flashforward), romps through time and space by the characters themselves, a character who can literally become anyone else and thus causes a great deal of intrigue, and more than a few characters who are very far from who or what they seem.
Plus, it’s plainly amusing. Anyone who thinks Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, with his perpetual drunkenness, frequent distractions in brothels, and sudden fits of inspiration that cause him to dash off to his studio, is in a fit state to investigate anything is outright lying, but it’s pretty great to see him try. Cameos by numerous other painters hanging around Paris at the turn of the century are also enjoyable, although I suspect they would have been even better if I had more than a passing familiarity with each of them and their work.
As a bonus, the book itself is incredibly prepossessing and lovely. The dust jacket, cover, and endpages are all shaded in various shades of blue. The type itself it a dark navy blue, almost black, and each chapter begins with a tiny drawing (in blue) of a palette. It was a joy to hold and read such a thoughtfully designed book.
On the whole, Sacré Bleu is a fun read, particularly for those with an art historical bent and/or a nagging suspicion that Vincent van Gogh just couldn’t have offed himself. The ending is kind of dizzying in its vastness and leaves you mentally staggering around for the conclusive pages, but still it’s one of those books you can easily see becoming a movie. Indeed, it’s an incredibly cinematic and visual read, so I’d recommend this like I would a movie: it’s quick, it’s entertaining, and, like the best movies, it’ll make you think. Give it a go!