Oh dear, it seems like I missed a couple weeks. I have a really good explanation for this (Although timing was completely astounding. Right out the gate? Dang…). See, my roommate blew out her meniscus a few days after my last Underrated SF/F post went up, which suddenly put double the household workload on me, plus doing some extra work that wasn’t there before. And in combination with my own books and short stories and contracts and such… well, you get the idea.
But I’m going to endeavor to stay on schedule (Knock on all the wood you can, folks.), so I’m back in it, and this time, with another one of my favorite books. Now, unlike The Cyberiad, this book is probably a little more well-known. This falls majorly into the “Doesn’t get Enough Love” category.
It’s Sacrè Bleu: A Comedy d’Art by Christopher Moore.
I know it seems weird that a book by Christopher Moore could ever end up on a list like this. We’re talking about the guy who wrote The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove and Lamb and Coyote Blue. He’s a brilliant, comedic master, blending fantasy and paranormal and science fiction into a giant block of genius that, as far as I’m concerned, no one has ever managed to come close to. He’s bawdy and inappropriate and witty and… why would I have one of his books here?
The simple answer? Sacrè Bleu is not a well-loved addition to the Christopher Moore library.
Now, I’m the first to admit that it’s a different sort of book. It’s a bit more elevated than most of his early books. They’re all brilliant, of course, but this isn’t the same firecracker comedy and action that people necessarily expected from Moore. Instead, Bleu wanders through the story in a very peculiar sort of way. It doesn’t thrust a plot into your face. Instead, it lets a dozen tiny plots eventually become one. The humor is subtler and the language is toned back considerably. There’s an underlying reverence for the subject matter that isn’t necessarily present (Or even possible.) in some of his other books.
Spoilers Start Here
Sacrè Bleu is essentially Moore’s ode to Impressionist Era France. Seurat and Monet and Manet and, of course, the ever-present Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It goes through painting, and ties everything together—even some of the more bizarre things, like Monet painting his wife as she died—with an underlying thread of magic.
Nothing is ever overbearing in this book, least of all the magic. And it’s unique, as magic goes. The ultramarine blue—once the only shade of blue acceptable for painting the shawl of Mary in religious works—is magic. It can bend and distort the flow of time. And this is how the plot is moved along. The Colorman is a part of the ritual to create the blue, as well as a muse, named simply Bleu. Between them, they have immortality, and they have control. Bleu can ensnare the minds of artists—as Muses tend to do—and has done so for centuries upon centuries. The blue paint used by the Celts to adorn themselves in battle? Yeah, that was her. And they got power from all those warriors wearing the pigment. Monet painted his wife in an attempt to stop time so he could save her from death.
It’s all these little things that really make Sacrè Bleu come to life. And it’s a lot of those things that make it, perhaps, a bit of an odd bird for Moore fans. There’s the odd anatomical reference thrown in, because this was the era of brothels and opium dens. You can’t completely avoid them, I reckon. And Bleu herself does tend to engage in amorous activities with the painters she seduces. So maybe not a good one for the kids. But there’s little that speaks to the fans of, say A Dirty Job and Practical Demonkeeping. Instead, this is historical and wonderful, filled with mystery and subterfuge and, perhaps, a little uncomfortable (Though all the best books secretly are, I think.).
Spoilers End Here
What makes Sacrè Bleu stand out from other books by Moore—and I would venture to say a lot of other books in general—is this care and respect that ran through the entire work. Yes, I could talk about the beautiful impressionist paintings spread throughout the book, the fact that it’s a beautiful book to look at (Seriously: if you can manage it, get the hardback edition.). The way they chose to make the text itself blue instead of black, the way they took so many of the elements of the classic Moore cover and elevated them. But that’s not what makes the book such a hidden gem. It’s that care and respect and, as I said before, reverence for the subject matter. And I think that’s when Christopher Moore really does his absolute best work.
Look at Lamb, where he used the Bible in combination with historical research. It’s regarded by many as his best work. Look at Fool and The Serpent of Venice, where he plays off of classic literature (King Lear and The Merchant of Venice/The Cask of Amontillado, respectively.). These are brilliant books, more even than his early, establishing works that brought him such fame. You can tell he loved all of these research-heavy books. But, as far as I can tell as an outside observer, Sacrè Bleu was above them all. He registered a website, filled out pages and pages with what he learned, what he thought, pieces of art he wanted to include but just couldn’t make work. This is a book that, according to the evidence, was close to Moore’s heart. Every author has a book or a series come up now and then that just grabs hold of them. And I think Sacrè Bleu is that book for Moore.
So if you’re looking for a gateway to Moore, this isn’t your book. If you’re looking for another Island of the Sequined Love Nun (Yes, that’s one of his books.), this is definitely not the book for you. But if you like art and you like history and you want to experience a thick, wonderful book (And who among us doesn’t?), then give this little azure tome a try.