Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Art isn't easy"

Sacre Bleu
by Christopher Moore

The quote above isn’t from Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu, but is rather from Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” a musical about the painter Georges Seurat. These lyrics were like a soundtrack in my head as I read Moore’s latest:

Piece by piece-
Only way to make a work of art.
Every moment makes a contribution,
Every little detail plays a part.
Having just a vision’s no solution,
Everything depends on execution;
                                                      Putting it together-
                                                      That’s what counts!

Under the dust jacket
Sondheim could as easily have been speaking about writing—and let’s face it, he was. Christopher Moore’s latest is indeed a work of art, in more ways than one. The first thing the reader will notice is the extraordinary look and design of this gorgeous novel. It’s something so rarely seen these days, but in the not too distant past, bookbinding was its own art form. Kudos to HarperCollins for making this book so special! It’s covered in a metallic blue half dust jacket that allows the exotic, erotic painting printed right on the book’s cover to peek through. The endpapers feature a vintage map of Paris. The book has a lovely layout, and the text is—yes—printed in a rich indigo blue. And within, there are full color reproductions of dozens of paintings by the Impressionist masters who are the characters of this novel. It’s odd to spend this much time discussing the outside of a book, but that’s how fabulous this one is. And I have heard that only the first edition hardback will be printed in full color, so I would suggest grabbing a copy fast.

As for the story, that’s a little more difficult to summarize this time around. For past Moore novels, I could say: It was about vampires, a demon, a jinn, a sea monster that feeds on emotion, a man who walks on water. Like those previous books, this one features an element of the fantastic, but I absolutely cannot explain that element in a word, a phrase, or quite possibly a paragraph. It’s different, it took me quite a while to figure out what was going on, and I’m not going to spoil that ride for you.

A page from the book
What I can talk about is the world against which Moore’s over-the-top tale is set, and that is the world of the great French Impressionist painters. It opens with the death of Vincent Van Gogh in Auvers, France in 1890. Long assumed to have been suicide, Moore posits a murder. From that opening, the story moves to Paris, and takes up with Vincent’s shocked peers. The news is told to baker Lucien Lessard, the struggling artist at the heart of this tale, and one of the very few fictional characters in the book. Lucien rushes out to give the sad news to his pal Henri. You may be familiar with him as Count Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, or just Toulouse-Lautrec, as he is generally known today.

Henri is the ideal sidekick for a Moore novel. As outrageously as Moore’s characters tend to behave, one gets the impression that Henri is depicted quite true to character. And he is wildly entertaining! The truth is, I didn’t need the somewhat odd plot about the color blue and the menacing “Colorman.” I could have spent this entire novel eavesdropping on Lucien, Henri, Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Renoir—yes, Seurat—and so many more, as they went about creating and discussing art. It was riveting. As with Moore’s Shakespeare novel, Fool, this tale clearly springs from the author’s love and appreciation of their work. And he’s done his homework; reading Sacré Bleu is like the most awesome art history lesson ever.

If that’s not enough for you, Moore has included a terrific Afterward entitled “So, Now You’ve Ruined Art” which answers “…what, among this big, blue lie, is true? What really happened?” And it wasn’t enough for me, actually. I was so entranced by Moore’s artists that I immediately dove into a non-fiction work after reading Sacré Bleu. It was all I could do to restrain myself from hopping on the first flight to Paris. That’s how this book affected me.

I realize I haven’t actually said much about what happens in the novel. My advice is just read and go where the story takes you. It’s funny and profane and over-the-top. It’s Christopher Moore. Art isn’t easy, and I don’t know another writer who can do what Moore does. As Mr. Sondheim said, everything depends on execution. Sacré Bleu is an homage to art from a true artist in his own right.

NOTE: There is an excellent website dedicated entirely to this novel here, which includes a reader's guide, an informative blog by the author, book tour info and more.  Also, with any luck, I'll be posting video from Chris's San Francisco book launch tomorrow.  Check back!

UPDATE 4/4: So, I did film Chris last night, and he was his usual uproarious self.  He asked me not to post the video until his tour concludes, so of course I'll honor his request.  But rest assured, I'll post it.  In the meanwhile, I have a backlog of video that I need to post, so I'll put up something soon.  :-)


  1. Wonderful review, as usual, Susie! I can't wait to see the real book; but I'm holding off until he's right here in Politics & Prose, so I can buy it on site. I have read an ARC, and I concur with everything you've said. This was maybe the third book I've read recently that's set in Paris. Must. Go. This. Year.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, SL. Chris was in fine form last night, and I'm sure you'll all have a good time when you get together.

    Chris got Nic and me reserved seats, which was awesome--there were 250 people in the SRO ticketed crowd. Mark (Cornman) joined us, and he, Nic, Charlee, and me spent a couple of hours in the deli next-door while Chris signed for hours. He'd even pre-signed all the books, but he was there 'til nearly 11:00pm personalizing them!

  3. Susan, I agree with your review. After reading the book, I had to do a little online reading about the artists. I'm going to check a book that Chris recommended in "So, Now You've Ruined Art" piece.

    Liz "Lib" McWilliams