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Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art
Christopher Moore
William Morrow, 405 pages

Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art
Christopher Moore
Born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1957, Christopher Moore has worked as a roofer, a photographer, a disk jockey, a journalist, a motel clerk and a waiter. At 32, he wrote Practical Demonkeeping (optioned by Disney) followed by Coyote Blue and Bloodsucking Fiends, a love story.

Christopher Moore Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Practical Demonkeeping
SF Site Review: A Dirty Job
SF Site Review: Fluke
SF Site Review: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
SF Site Review: Island of the Sequined Love Nun
SF Site Review: Island of the Sequined Love Nun

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

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The expression "sacré blue" is a French curse meant as a cry of anger or surprise most of us have probably heard, but probably don't know why it was once considered an offensive expression (unlike most American swear words which we fully understand, just that through overuse have become nearly innocuous). The "sacred blue" refers to the color associated with Mary, mother of Jesus and, as was once the case with things originally associated with holy matters, considered blasphemous if used in anything other than a holy context. Medieval symbolism and church policy required painting the Madonna's shawl blue; however, for a variety of technical and cost reasons, blue was the one pigment often in short supply. Which may be why, for example, Michelangelo's "The Madonna and Child with St. John and Angels" is unfinished; one theory has it that Michelangelo's patron may have balked at the expense of the rich blue lapis lazuli that was intended to paint Mary's robe as tradition would dictate.

If you didn't know that (I didn't) you'll be educated, as well as amused, by the latest Christopher Moore satire, Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art. As with Moore's previous takes on Shakespeare, the New Testament, horror movies and the whole vampire shtick, the irreverent treatment retains reverence of its subject. In this case, the French Impressionists and the idea that maybe Vincent Gogh didn't off himself in a suicidal depression, but was perhaps the victim of his muse, or possibly the entity victimizing his muse. A muse shared by his contemporaries, two of whom in particular, the real Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the made-up baker and aspiring painter Lucien Lessard, who muse over what might really have happened to their troubled friend. It may have something to do both with the origins of sacre blué and the mythic notion of a muse, the inspiration for creativity that takes a woman's form. And, yes, inspires mostly men for whom the creativity is mixed with matters both inspirational and sexual.

As Moore explains in the afterword:

  Vincent van Gogh did shoot himself in that field in Auvers where three roads converge -- shot himself in the chest -- then walked a mile cross-country to Dr. Gachet's house seeking treatment…and I thought, What kind of painter does that? Who tries to kill himself by shooting himself in the chest, then walks a mile to seek medical attention? It made no sense at all…His death was both a mystery and a tragedy, a resignation and, yet, there's the evidence of great passion for excellence that only artist himself could define, and pursuing that passion seems to have been the basis of much self-torment. What is the standard when you are doing something that's never been done. What kind of muse inspires that? Exactly.
p. 400
 

The muse in question is both sexual temptress and in thrall to a supernatural being who is equally sustained by and the sustainer of sacré blue. She's also, as you'd expect in a Christopher Moore novel, a smart-ass. As you would also expect in a Moore comedy, the banter amongst the painters is anachronistically modern. While historical accuracy is besides the point (you want historical accuracy, go read Phillipa Gregory, not a Moore farce), the story nonetheless informs us about 19th century French painters and the tools they used, complete with pictures of their iconic paintings as well as an online chapter guide, that's a lot more engaging than the average college art appreciation class. All without the tedium of info-dumps disguised as clumsy dialogue all-too common of such endeavors.

Moore's need to inform as well as entertain makes the first half of the book not quite as laugh-out loud funny as in his previous work. But as the plot gets moving, the laughs get more frequent, even as the suspension of disbelief becomes harder to sustain. In the end, though, Moore paints a clever and, while no doubt overly romantic, edifying picture of Paris and the Impressionists.

It made a great impression on me.

Copyright © 2012 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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