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Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art

Every so often, I need a fun book. I can only read so much about war and genocide before I need a little light-hearted amusement. However, I do have standards...no cheesy romance novels with smoldering, over-sexed and under-dressed men on the cover. Bleah. Pas pour moi. Don't get me wrong - I'm not against romance. I just prefer it to be approached in a more subtle and clever manner.
I found such a book a couple of months ago and read it in two days flat. All I had to do was go to my go-to guy, Christopher Moore. His cerebral wit is always a hit with me, so I picked up his latest novel  -and it did not disappoint. Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art was simultaneously intelligent and hilarious. It taught me a few things about painting and made me laugh. A LOT. And I don't mean chuckle to myself. I'm talking loud bursts of laughter that gleaned more than one annoyed look from my family.
Most entertaining book I've read in awhile!
Sacré Bleu takes place in my favorite city (Paris) within one of my favorite neighborhoods (Montmartre) during one of my favorite eras (La Belle Époque) and is about my favorite artists (the Impressionists). I really couldn't ask for more in a work of historical fiction.
The story opens in Auvers, France with the death of Vincent van Gogh. But there is a twist that asks the question - was it suicide? or murder? This question sends the story's two main characters - the real-life artist, Henri Toulous-Lautrec, and the fictional baker/aspiring artist, Lucien Lessard, on an adventure to discover the truth. Toulouse-Lautrec and Lucien interact with great Impressionists like Pissaro, Renoir, Manet, Monet, and Cézanne and the fictitious "Colorman"in their quest to solve the mystery.
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (Photo Source: virtual-lautrec.net)
Moore clearly did his research - he depicted the artists true to their known personalities. I particularly appreciated the fact that, as he explained in his Epilogue Bleu, he purposely did not give Degas a main part because Degas was known to be a, well, not so nice guy. Especially to those little ballerinas he obsessively painted...
Paris herself is a character. Moore describes late-19th Century Paris exactly as I imagined. With his words, he paints his own impression and takes us back in time. There we live la vie Bohème with the characters as we visit the bakeries, cafés, cabarets, and even brothels, of Montmartre.
The Moulin Rouge - a favorite hangout of Toulouse-Lautrec  (Photo by J. Boyer-Switala)
The real star, however, is sacré bleu, or sacred blue - a paint color like no other. In an online interview with NPR, Moore explains; "In medieval times, the church said that if you are going to portray the Virgin Mary's cloak, it has to be in a certain shade of blue. And that blue must be ultramarine, because ultramarine blue is permanent. It doesn't go black or fade as organic colors do. And that is made essentially from crushed lapis lazuli, which is only available in Afghanistan. If you think about the 11th and 12th century, trying to get a stone from Afghanistan to Europe, for years and right up into the 19th century, was more valuable, weight for weight, than gold."
I would love to tell you more, but there isn't much I can say that won't give away the plot's many twists and surprises. To find out what happened to van Gogh and why the book is so darn funny, you will just have to check it out yourself. 
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