I have read the 46th book for the book challenge. It was Sacré Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore.
This is a dark, humoresque look at the color blue throughout the history of painting but primarily at the Impressionist years during the latter part of the ninetieth century in Paris. The story revolves around the young fictional baker-painter named Lucien Lessard and his family and the very real painter Henri Toulous-Lautrec. Lessard and Toulous-Lautrec and brothers in arms, fellow painters who seek each other’s company and advice on painting and with women.
The story opens with the death of Vincent van Gogh in Auvers, shot in the chest, not by his own hand, as history tells us, but a shadowy figure known now as The Colorman. Lessard and Toulous-Lautrec are upset by Vincent’s death as are the rest of the Impressionist artists, such as Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Pissarro. His brother Theo is determined to keep selling Vincent’s paintings. Vincent painted with very little blue, it will be remembered, except for “Starry Night.” The paintings from Provence do not have blue. This angered The Colorman.
Who is the Colorman? We learn from flashbacks that he has existed from prehistoric times, from the times of the cavemen with his muse, the woman called Bleu. He has been making the color called Sacré Bleu in a strange ritual that stems from the paintings in the caves, from the lapis lazuli, from the minerals, from Bleu’s body. And he and Bleu have become nearly immortal down through the centuries. They were with the Picts as they painted themselves blue against the Romans and defeated them in England. They were with the makers of the beautiful stained glass windows of the medieval cathedrals of Europe. They were with Michelangelo when he painted. They have been around forever. Bleu takes over the body of a young woman to become the muse of a painter who goes on to paint a masterpiece. The painter loses track of time. The young woman often dies or forgets when Bleu leaves her body to go to another young woman. The pair steal a painting from the painter that has the Sacré Bleu because they need it to make more blue paint.
Now they have targeted both Henri and Lucien, but particularly Lucien. Bleu has become Carmen, Henri’s muse awhile back. Henri adores Carmen, the laundress, and has painted her but she has disappeared. He manages to find her but she has no recollection of the time she spent with him. Henri is crushed. He truly loved Carmen and doesn’t realize that it was Bleu who inspired him in Carmen’s body.
Lucien, meantime, is taken with the lovely Juliette and is painting her in his studio with the Sacré Bleu that he got from The Colorman. He calls his painting “Blue Nude”. It is a gigantic painting. He locks himself in his studio with Juliette for days and doesn’t come out. Finally his mother breaks the door down and finds Lucien collapsed on the floor. She hits Juliette/Bleu in the head with a crepe pan and she flees. Lucien does not regain consciousness for eight days. He has very ill. When Lucien and Henri begin to look for Juliette, they stumble upon The Colorman and Juliette and the truth about the pair. Juliette/Bleu is beginning to truly love Lucien so she agrees to help them plot to destroy The Colorman.
They track The Colorman to The Catacombs of Paris. Lucien and Henri burn him up in The Catacombs and also his paintings that are stored there. While that weakens him, it doesn’t completely destroy him. He returns to Bleu. When she attempts to kill him again, he suddenly disappears into a pile of sand. She knows now that he is gone for good. Now she can teach Lucien to make the color.
Bleu and Lucien sail off into the sunset together, happily making Sacré Bleu.
This book is quintessential Christopher Moore. It is irreverent, very funny. Toulous-Lautrec is a humorous but tragic figure. He died very young of alcoholism and you can see why from this story. Lessard is a fictional character but he is always watching out for his dear friend Henri, trying to save him. Both are concerned with their Impressionist painter friends and their welfare, trying to save them from the wiles of The Colorman and trying to avenge Vincent’s death at the hands of The Colorman. This was one of Moore’s longer books, but I truly enjoyed it.