I considered getting this book for my Kindle (yes, I have one, because I am a traitor), but I’m very glad I didn’t. I love it when books are designed to impact the story on more than one level. Unfortunately it’s mostly a tactic used in gimicky children’s books that aren’t good enough to be bought on their own merits, and that’s when the scratch-and-sniff and the tinny little prerecorded noise-buttons and the probably-toxic tiny jewelry comes into play. But in books for grown-ups (or, hell, older kids), you’ve generally got black text and whatever combination of paper and glue was cheapest. Illustrations and/or decent cover art if you’re lucky.
This is a ridiculously long-winded way to say that this book is printed in blue, and it increased my delight tenfold. Okay, maybe point-twofold. It’s plenty enjoyable enough on its own, but the blue print just made it that much shinier. It also has a modesty dust jacket to hide the mild partial nudity on the cover (which doesn’t even approach the moderate partial nudity on the cover of Island of the Sequined Love Nun, but whatever) and is full of color prints of topical artwork. Which would explain why my print copy was pricey. But I regret nothing. My kindle’s the lame kind with no color.
Seriously. This should happen more. I’ll pay for it. I think the only other non-graphic novel I can think of that does this is my fancy copy of House of Leaves.
Anydangway. Sacre Bleu exists. I’m pretty sure that Christopher Moore doesn’t need my help selling it, but I’ve loved him very much for ten years or so. He can have it anyway, my own little tiny drop of review in a sea of New York Times Bestselling Authordom.
(Ginger Waif may need to cut the caffeine. I’ve had more emphatic paragraph breaks here than I think is strictly legal.)
Sacre Bleu is a bit of a departure for Christopher Moore, though it’s hard to put my finger on why. It’s a grim yet very comedic work of dark fantasy inspired by raw strangeness and starring Inept Yet Well-Meaning Douchebag and his love interest, Hypercompetent and Snarky Yet Vulnerable Babe. Seems like it should be par for the course. I think it’s that the book is less archly comedic than most of his and that the plot is a thorough mindfuck rather than a straightforward if peculiar series of events. Most of his departures from form are just the same thing done poorly. This is something new.
The story follows some fictional but mostly historical figures in the Parisian and general art community in the late 1800’s. Lucien Lessard (not real, if you’re like me and not a turn-of-the-century France fanatic) and a bunch of his more extant friends are a bunch of reprobate starving artists. Then there’s a suspicious, grotesque figure and a hot chick, both of them more than what they seem. That’s really about all I can explicitly unpack in a summary without spoiling surprises buried deep in the book. The first bit does drag a bit as you try and figure out what’s going on. I actually thought it might be a work of non-fantastical historical fiction for a moment there. The story is twisty-turny, heinous fuckery most foul, leaping back and forth through time like Quentin Tarantino and the Energizer Bunny had a baby, and that baby mostly concerned itself with French people boning.
Le bon, I feel like they should call it given my total lack of capacity for French.
So there are these people and things happen to them that I mostly can’t explain because it’s a secret. This is a great review. Let’s talk about the people? Moore has this thing where he has two characters. Two avatars, I suppose, two Platonic ideals. As referenced above, one is male, a quietly clever but generally not accomplished dude who enjoys adventures and ladies. One is female, smarter and better at actually accomplishing things than her almost inevitable love interest and deeply sarcastic, but very fond of reassurance and eventual commitment. These aren’t bad characters, but they exist in a thousand guises in almost all of his books. They’ve been Biff and Mary Magdalene, Pocket and Cordelia, Tucker and Kimi… I dunno, I get a little bit bored with them.
And I’ll take a moment to point out that Moore is kind of addicted to saying sweeping things about men and women. Not always consistent things, seldom complimentary things, occasionally useful things, but always sweeping generalizations. He leans a little toward “ladies are awesome and nice and smart and dudes are just a bunch of neanderthals,” which is a silly sentiment even if well-meaning, but some of these ideas are quite counter to your standard cultural gender narrative. He makes room for variant sexuality and gender expression. He sincerely believes that just about everyone, whatever their gender, likes screwing and ought to have fun doing it. He lives in his own world, but he still really enjoys putting pronouncements about gender in his characters’ mouths. Odd habit. He also seems to think sudden-onset lesbianism happens? Not in this book. I just thought of it now.
On a more problematic note, this book includes recurring magical possession that results in… kinda rapey implications, with the least bit of thought. This is upsetting.
Back to characters. The side cast is, as usual for him, pretty good. When he’s writing characters other than the recurring two (and their frequent sidekicks, who are usually the same people slightly repackaged) they’re entertaining, loveable, and almost always kinda icky. You wouldn’t want to be friends with these people, but they’re fun to read about. This is especially entertaining when he’s working with personages one thinks of as dignified, what with their paintings prized by serious and important galleries nowadays. Artistic license with artists. It works.
The Paris inhabited by the artists of all stripes worked for me. I’m not particularly acquainted with the history of this particular time and place, so I don’t know how accurate it was. Lots of fun, engrossing detail, so I can’t say I care all that much whether it was true to the manners or clothes of the time. It might bug a more dedicated scholar. Or maybe not. Dunno. The glitzy, grimy, strange little city interested me and made a great backdrop for its inhabitants.
The tone of the book was in line with the Christopher Moore standard, wickedly funny, kind of mean, and strangely sweet. Despite subject matter that generally deals with ghosts and monsters, he loves his creations and it’s palpable. Everything’s always so cute in these books, even with all the death and horror and cruel humor. No, I don’t know how that works. I’ll quote Christopher Moore quoting Henri Toulouse-Lautrec quoting Renoir. “Love them all.” He does.
It’s a much less funny book than he’s written before. the subject matter is harsher and sadder than he’s tackled, or at least treated as such. He did rewrite King Lear, after all. It’s still pretty funny, but there’s less of the laughing. Still lots of nifty wordplay.
I just realized I’ve pretty much gotten through the review without touching on the motif of blue. And I decided I’m not going to. Read and find out what’s up with that. It’ll be awesome.