By Christopher Moore
First Published: 2012
Case Illustration by Aly Fell
Review © 2012 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Modern Fiction, Historical Fiction, Comedy, Fantasy
Sacré Bleu is a new comedy historical fiction novel by Christopher Moore. It weaves together a mythical tale containing many of the leading painters from the Impressionism art movement of the late 19th century. Moore is famous for his novels of comedy and satire but, in this case, both the story and the comedy did not live up to the standards Moore has established with his earlier works.
The best aspect of Sacré Bleu is the production quality of the hardback edition. The dust jacket is completely unconventional as it is only half height to show off the beautifully illustrated cover boards of the novel. Then the inside of the cover boards contain a historical map of Paris. Finally, quite a number of famous paintings from the Impressionist era are sprinkled throughout the text in full color. The paintings are reproduced with good quality although most are fairly small. In all, I counted 30 paintings and a couple of sketches.
The main premise is that the leading artists of the time were all connected by a mythical artist’s muse in the form of a beautiful woman as well as the need to obtain a blue pigment that was so rare it was more expensive than gold. With this premise, Moore weaves a new myth that explains how the artists gained their inspiration for some of their most famous works and how they often came to a bad end including one who committed suicide and 4 who died of syphilis. The main character is a baker named Lucien who is struggling to become an artist and has connections to many of the famous artists of the time. Moore does a great job of connecting biographical information about these well-known artists with the subjects of their paintings which are displayed in the reproductions in the novel. However, while I admired the intricate connections between artists, their families, events of the time, and the subjects of the paintings, I had difficulty engaging fully with the story. Even worse much of the comedy in the novel fell flat.
I think the main problems were two fold, a weak plot and weak characterizations. It took much too long for any sort of real plot to emerge. The story started off extremely slowly as it bounced around between a number of different characters and different times without any clear connections. After 100 pages, I was about ready to give up and only the novelty of some interesting connections to the nice reproductions of famous art on the pages kept me from giving up completely on the novel. In fact, it wasn’t until around 160 pages into the novel that a plot with some tension really finally started to be developed. And then as the story finally wound down, the ending did not end up being satisfying on any level.
The other major problem was the lack of good characters. The main character Lucien was bland and boring and didn’t generate much interest. His main sidekick, Toulouse Lautrec was about the most likeable character of the novel. When the most likable character is portrayed as a two dimensional inveterate drunk who spends most of his time in brothels, you begin to start to worry about the quality of what you’re reading. In addition, the bad guy in the story, the mythical Colorman wasn’t interesting enough and didn’t seem to have any good motivation for his actions.
Conclusion: Only buy Sacré Bleu for the beautiful production value. I wouldn’t recommend actually reading this novel unless you are a die-hard Moore fan or love the idea of reading about the fictional imaginings of the artists from the Impressionism art movement.