By Christopher Moore
William Morrow, $26.99, 416 pages
After Van Gogh is murdered by the grotesque dwarf “The Colorman” in Auvers, another “little man,” Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Lucien Lessard, a far lesser known Impressionist, try to solve the crime in Montmartre, Paris.
This novel is rather difficult to characterize. First, it’s a surprisingly true and detailed history of Impressionism, and even the whole history of art, beginning 40,000 years ago in a cave of France, when The Colorman was born.
Second, it is about Sacre Bleu—sacred blue—named for the color of the cloak of the Virgin Mary. It’s made from crushed lapis lazuli, and only supplied by The Colorman and his assistant, the whorish Juliette. It’s also about the mixing of colors, mostly blue, and the emergence of the color blue in the Impressionists—the first painters to paint outside, to paint light.
Juliette is the daemon herself–the muse of artistic creation. In history, we learn in the novel, many artists have painted her in different bodily manifestations, and been inspired by her. But at what cost? Murder, syphilis, madness, that’s what.
This is a kind of Monty Python look at 1890 France. You know, the absinthe, risqué girls, people smacked by baguettes for a joke, artists’ garrets, Left Bank existential hipness (fifty years before its time).
As a bonus, the novel is illustrated with dozens of paintings and even features blue ink to read.
Reviewed by Phil Semler