“Sacre Bleu!” (musings on a Christopher Moore novel)

(So I read Lance Mannion’s review of this book, and I wanted to refer to mine…only to discover that I wrote it but never posted it. Oops.)

Any serious reader has, I suppose, an honor roll of authors whose work is so worshipfully and reverently awaited that matters of economics do not factor into the decision to buy the new book – in other words, an “Authors To Buy In Hardcover Immediately Upon Release” list. Now, my list of these has been terrifically short for a long time: it’s basically Guy Gavriel Kay, and…that’s about it. Except that I think it’s time I put Christopher Moore on the list as well. I haven’t found Moore’s work as consistently good as GGK’s, but Moore hits heights that, for comedy, are for me as sublime as GGK’s best fantasy work. So Moore is officially one of my “Buy in hardcover” authors. I’m sure this news will thrill him deeply. (Or it won’t affect him in any way whatsoever because he won’t know about it because he’s a successful author and I’m a blogger who gets two hundred hits a day and a lot of those are people searching for photos of Melissa Rauch.)

All of this brings me to Moore’s newest book, Sacre Bleu.This is a novel about…the color blue. I kid you not; Moore decided that he wanted to write a book about a color, so he did just that. So, how does one write a book about a color? Well, if you’re Moore, you delve into the inner world of the French Impressionist painters, and you posit that there’s a certain kind of blue paint that they can only procure from a certain, mysterious individual who travels around with a woman who sometimes seems to be…someone else. And if you’re Moore, you add in supernatural goings-on, gonzo explanations for things that happened in real history. And if you’re really fortunate, you get to have your book on the color blue printed with a blue cover and with the body in blue ink, and you get to have many of the paintings you mention in the course of the book depicted right in the text.

Yes, they really pulled out all the stops for Sacre Bleu. It’s a fine physical specimen of a book to begin with. But is it worth reading? Well, we’re talking about Christopher Moore here, who as far as I can recall hasn’t yet really had a dud (although I wasn’t entirely thrilled with You Suck or The Stupidest Angel, and I have yet to read Bite Me).

The book opens with one of the seminal events in the history of human art: Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide. Although, for Moore, it actually isn’t a suicide; it’s an attempt by Van Gogh to procure more of the special blue paint that goes awry. All the rest of the book’s shenanigans descend from this event. And, as we’re talking Moore, there are a lot of shenanigans.

What I’ve found most thrilling in the best of Moore’s recent books is his willingness to move beyond his early, California Coast-centric work for more ambitious subject matter to mine for madcap comedy. Here he takes on one of the most fruitful eras in the history of Western art, and it’s clear that Moore has done his homework. He spices the book with an amazing degree of period detail, not just in the setting of late 19th century Paris, but in the specifics pertaining to the art itself and the community of painters that lived and worked at that time. Even as Moore’s unique brand of lunacy unfolds, the period details are totally convincing.

What helps here is the design of the book itself: it is printed in blue ink, and the text actually includes – very helpfully – actual images of the paintings themselves which are mentioned in the story. This one aspect of the book really helps ground the visuals of the book for me, as a reader.

This is Christopher Moore, of course, so there are also familiar tropes to be found as well. Our hero is a likable, earnest young man who is also at times slightly clueless, who is drawn into a somewhat strange tale involving a woman who seems far older and wiser than he. He is surrounded by a cast of characters that is idiosyncratically memorable, and all this is treated in the usual Moore way, with more than a few laugh-out-loud moments to be found along the way. My only complaint about Sacre Bleu is that it takes a bit longer to get a hold on things with this book than usual, but as he almost always does, Moore won me over.

And by the way: I read Sacre Bleu immediately following George RR Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. As I noted back then, Martin’s approach to writing sex scenes is, well, not my cup of tea. Here, by contrast, is how Christopher Moore does it. (Writes about sex, that is. I have no idea how he…well, you know.)

He stepped up to her, took her in his arms, and kissed her. And off came the chemise, off came the pantaloons, then his shirt, then the rest, and they were on each other, on the fainting lounge, completely lost in one another. There may have been pounding on the door at one point, but they didn’t hear it and didn’t care. Where they were, no one else mattered. When, at last, she looked down from the lounge, at him, lying on his back on the floor, the light from the skylight had gone orange, and the sweat sheen on their bodies looked like slick fire.

It’s night and day, isn’t it? Moore writes simple, elegant sex scenes that include a smattering of detail: the fact that Lucien is on the floor after, while she is not, and the orange glow of late afternoon through the skylight on their bodies. Contrast that with George RR Martin’s apparent bonus he gets from the publisher for each use of the C-word.

Long live Christopher Moore!

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