I picked up Sacré Bleu hoping for a historical fiction treatment of Vincent Van Gogh's life and death. Disappointingly, this isn't his story. This isn't to say I was disappointed with Christopher Moore's story, I was just hoping for more Van Gogh than I got. At least, the story begins with the painter of sunflowers and starry nights.
As it says on the back cover, "In July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or die he?" The painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Lucien Lessard, a baker who paints, set out to find out what really happened to their friend Vincent. Their investigation leads them through the brothels, bars, and bakeries of 19th century Paris. Along the way they come across a muse and the aptly named Colorman who supplies paints to artists.
This is the first time I have read Christopher Moore, so I didn't have any particular expectations going into it beyond that Van Gogh would appear in the story. It turned out to be a sort of murder mystery, with elements of the supernatural, set in a fictional version of the 19th century Paris art world. For the first two-thirds of the book, I wasn't quite sure what to think and wondered where the story was trying to get to. It wasn't until the last third that the story came together for me. The last third was also the funniest part of the novel. Notwithstanding what I wrote earlier about no expectations, I did have the impression that the book would be funny. After all, the subtitle of "Sacré Bleu " is "A Comedy d'Art." The comedy didn't really arrive till the end, but when it did it was great. The last third was definitely my favorite part of the book.
Interspersed throughout story are interludes on the color blue and black-and-white reprints of famous paintings. Instead of the information that typically accompanies a reprint (title, author, date, etc.) there are captions from the story, as if the paintings were made especially for this book. It was a perfect addition to the story.
Overall, I liked Sacré Bleu. Although it took awhile to get there, it paid off in the end. A person I know who counts herself as a fan of Christopher Moore indicated that his writing was inconsistent, with some really great books and some not so great ones According to her, two of the great ones are Lamb and A Dirty Job. Sacré Bleu intrigued me enough to read more of Moore's work, so I'll probably these a try sometime soon.