Monday, May 14, 2012

An artist can't let madness stop him from making art

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art by Christopher Moore is a beautiful book. Normally I don't like hardback books. They're so cumbersome. Even this one I didn't bring with me on my commute because I like my back in the not hunched over position. But still I'm happy I have the hardback of this and not just because I got it signed. (Although SIGNED!!) This is a really pretty book. The rough cut pages, the dark blue text, and most importantly, the artwork.

Sacre Bleu is a book about art, if you couldn't figure that out from the subtitle. But it of course has a little of the supernatural woven in because it's Christopher Moore. The story opens with the death of Van Gogh. One day he goes out to paint in a field, shoots himself in the chest and the drags himself a mile to the door of a doctor while raving about a Colorman. But why would he shoot himself and then walk a mile to a doctor? And who is this Colorman Van Gogh said has been following him around France?

Toulouse's The Laundress*
Unfortunately, we don't get to spend a lot of time with Van Gogh, what with the whole bullet through the chest thing in the first few pages.That's OK though. Well I mean, not OK for Van Gogh but we get two hilarious narrators: Lucien Lessard, a young baker and painter, and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. I love Henri and he is just the type of character Moore excels at writing: a kind person with a healthy taste for debauchery. Sure, he spends a good portion of the book in night clubs (Moulin Rouge, Chat Noir), whore houses and bars, but he's a true friend to Lucien and to the other Impressionists. There's a wonderful scene near the end of the novel that captures the spirit of Toulouse-Lautrec. Lucien woke up on the floor, having just come out of a trance and sees Henri lying there with him: "'Why are you lying on the floor?' Lucien asks. 'Solidarity,' Toulouse-Lautrec says. 'And we ran out of cognac. This is my preferred out of cognac posture.'"

Now, I mentioned the whole "trance" thing. And that mysterious Colorman character. This strange little man keeps showing up the artists and offering them paint, especially ultramarine, the Sacre Bleu. This is the color used to paint the Virgin Mary and is extremely rare. The Colorman never accepts money from the artists, who indeed are never really sure they want to buy color from him, although they always seem to end up with some. The artists seem to lose time while painting with it. There are paintings they remember working on but don't seem to be anywhere. And of course there's the matter of Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo about a Colorman following him to Arles.

The Colorman isn't the only mystery character here. Lucien's love, Juliette, broke his heart years before by just disappearing. Suddenly she's returned, with no explanation for where she's been and why she's back. No one trusts Juliette, except Lucien, who can't stay away.

This is, no doubt, a Christopher Moore book. It is his style, his voice, his humor. And yet, it's different than his other works. It's funny but it doesn't have the same laugh-out-loud moments like A Dirty Job and Lamb. But this isn't a bad thing. This may be a more serious comedy, but it's a comedy nonetheless. And it's a story I have a feeling will stick with me.

*This is one of the images included in the book and one I found myself turning back to often.

Title quote from page 241

Moore, Christopher. Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D'Art. HarperCollins, 2012.