It is a story of obsession, of a search to unravel the truth from complicated lines of entangled history. Christopher Moore’s newest novel, “Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art,” takes the story of Vincent van Gogh’s death — that he went out to a field, shot himself and died after trying to get help — and throws it out. The story unfolds through the eyes of Lucien Lessard, the baker, and Count Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa.
True to form, Moore, the author of such books as “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal,” and “Bite Me,” kicks off “Sacré Bleu” with a fantastically imagined scenario in which van Gogh is shot by a small mysterious man known as the Colorman while painting in a field.
“This is a story about the color blue,” Moore writes in his opening, Prelude in Blue. “It may dodge and weave, hide and deceive, take you down paths of love and history and inspiration, but it’s always about blue … This is a story about the color blue, and like blue, there’s nothing true about it.”
Moore’s tongue-in-cheek storytelling permeates the novel. Lucien and Henri, who studied with van Gogh in Montmartre, form an ideal pair as they roam around, trying to uncover the truth behind their friend’s death, romping around in search of the Colorman. Much of the fun comes from watching the story unfold through the eyes of this pair, as well as from the knowledge that the whole story is a playful fabrication of history as it mixes with Moore’s imagination.
“It was sometimes difficult to reconcile a man’s talents with this personality,” Moore writes of Henri’s encounter with Degas. “Even the great Degas, who, as an artist, was a hero to Henri, and probably the best draftsman of all the Impressionists, had turned out, in person, to be a complete prick. Henri had even lived for a while in the same apartment building as Degas, but instead of being able to glean some wisdom from the master, all he got was disdain.”
Although a rewriting of Paris’ Belle Epoch lies at the novel’s heart, the story remains driven by that fixation on the color blue. Moore claims that his original intention was to write a novel about this color, and that the plot arranged itself around this simple mission. Even though this work of comic fiction doesn’t take itself too seriously, it accomplishes something seriously awesome.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5