Thursday, May 03, 2012

Lapis Lazuli

I've had an incredibly pleasant experience reading Chris Moore's "Sacre Bleu." Most of it was spent on vacation, either in a cozy cabin in the redwoods, or sitting on a beach near the California coast. That doesn't exactly match up with the setting of the book - the majority of it takes place in urban Paris, far from the ocean - but it did coincide nicely in two ways with the book. First, I was reading "en plein air", which is where the French impressionist heroes of the book have taken their artistic revolution; and I was surrounded by blue, blue sky and blue water (including that particular shade that I call "Big Sur blue" and love so dearly), and so I regularly had samples to see when I wanted to cross-reference the way Moore was describing the many shades employed by his artists.

Sacre Bleu is kind of a one-off for Moore; as far as I can tell, it doesn't overlap with any characters from his other books, and it's thematically quite different from any of his other books I've read. That said, the style is unquestionably and hilariously Moore's. Some already-funny lines are made even funnier just because they're being uttered by 19th-century Frenchmen. As Moore explained at his appearance and in his author's note, he started with an ambition to write a novel about the color blue. The way he did that is very impressive, and I'll go into it a bit more in the spoilers section below, but it is accomplished on multiple levels: the color itself, and the physical properties behind the color, and its social, economic, and religious heritage, and many characters whose lives are affected in a surprising way by blue.

The book itself looks stunning. I'm a bit dense, so I didn't realize until around page 50 that the ink used in the book is, yes, blue; well, there's a light-colored blue for the page numbers that I spotted earlier, but the body text is a very dark blue that can initially scan as black. The book also has many shockingly good reproductions of Impressionist masterpieces, accompanied by humorous quotations from the text.


During the Q&A session, someone had asked Moore if he had a favorite character from the book, and without hesitating, he said it was Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It perfectly shows in the book. Officially, the protagonist is Lucien Lessard, a baker and aspiring painter, but Moore gives nearly all the best lines to Henri, and the story gets incredibly fun whenever he's on the scene. Henri is a bon vivant, a cheerful drunk and whoremonger, not to mention a person of very short stature and a count and a talented artist. In my mind's eye, he's played by a particularly flamboyant Peter Dinklage.

Lucien isn't quite as amusing, but he's a very sweet lad; not terribly bright, but good-hearted. The rest of the Lessard clan are given smaller but memorable roles. Pere Lessard is the patron of all the Impressionists on Montmartre, who literally saved many of them from starvation thanks to his prodigious baking skills. The mom and sisters are classic Chris Moore characters: hilarious and edgy. Lucien grows up surrounded by virtually all the talented painters in Paris. I think Moore invented the Lessards, but almost every other character in the book is a historic figure, and he tried to capture their personalities based on what we know of them.


I still haven't read any reviews from the book, but I'm a bit curious what aspect of the plot the reviewers are all giving away. Is it the time-slowing power of the sacred blue, or the real identities of Blue and the Colorman, or fact that Blue can switch between bodies at will? All of those were nicely surprising revelations. Actually, not even "revelations"... Moore did a great job at slowly revealing what was going on, so I could generally piece it together shortly before it was explicitly stated.

In a way, the Moore book this reminded me the most of was Fluke, just in terms of the balls-out craziness of the plot. I liked this one much more, but in both cases I would never have expected from the outset where the story would end up.

Blue was a great character; she's not a good person, but I couldn't help liking her. She gets particularly endearing after she drops the charade and gets drunk with Lucien and Henri. In terms of morality, she's pretty comparable to Jody from the "Bloodsucking Fiends" series... in an absolute sense, what she's doing is bad, but she's paired with another guy who's way worse than her, so she seems more acceptable in comparison. She's also in interesting manifestation of the sentiment, which I think was explicitly stated early in this book and that I first encountered in "The Last Temptation of Christ," that there's only one woman, with many faces. I liked the way that sentiment was unpacked in this book, though: it isn't an excuse to philander, it means that once you've found the one woman, you can stop looking.


While the setting and storyline of Sacre Bleu are big departures for Chris Moore, it has the same wit and quality that I love about his books. If you're a fan, pick it up; if you haven't read him before, this would be a fine place to start.

No comments:

Post a Comment