Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Mondays on the Margins (or whatever, it's still summer, shut up): Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore
I bought this book quite a while ago because I had read and loved (and reviewed, to a thundering silence, geez man) Lamb, and I found the synopsis intriguing, and ultramarine blue is one of my very favourite colours and has always seemed a little mysterious to me. . Then I put it in my stack and promptly forgot about it or passed it over for library books that were about to expire. Over the summer, I packed it every time we were going somewhere where I'd want an actual book to read - in the sun, on the beach, anywhere it wouldn't be convenient to read on my ipad. It took me all summer to finish, and it is now extensively foxed and sandy and water-swollen, and I savoured every line of it and never once wished that I had brought another book (yes, another summer has passed wherein I read no Trollope). It was magnificent.
I accidentally just glanced at the praise page and now my head is crowded with the phrases of others that describe the book perfectly: "Art history is playfully - and perilously - rewritten" (Publishers Weekly); "exultant joie de vivre" (Kirkus Reviews); "surprisingly complex novel full of love, death, art, and mystery" (Library Journal); "consistently delightful journey into the sweetly demented mind of novelist Christopher Moore" (Philadelphia Inquirer).
More than anything, it just seemed like Moore had a hell of a good time writing this - immersing himself in the art and history of the Impressionists and then swirling it all into a mad reimagined palette of riotous colour. And like in Lamb, the humour, the debauchery, the cutting wit, even the suffering and death (frequently by syphilis), is rendered with such a light and loving hand - it is for this reason that I'm contemplating reading nothing but Moore's entire oeuvre for the next while. That or inventing a time machine so I can go back to 1890 and hang out in bars and whorehouses with Toulouse-Lautrec. This, along with Jaclyn Moriarty's A Corner of White, busted me right out of my "oh my god, I'm so jaded, every book seems like an echo of a bunch of other books, nothing feels fresh, nothing feels new, nothing feels transporting and fantastic and galvanizing" rut. It also gave me the same possibly spurious but still warm feeling that I got from the Vincent Van Gogh episode of Dr. Who - not that Van Gogh needed to be rehabilitated, but that he has been gathered in tenderly by history and imagination more than he ever would have imagined.
It's very much not for everyone - I'm sure it would seem heretical, or glib, or silly to some. I love reading about people who are passionate about something, I love witty banter, I love fantastical elements like stopping time and time pockets, and the word 'penis', coupled with the phrase 'Accident. Couldn't be helped.' made me giggle helplessly almost every single time. So loved it. I really, really loved it.
Memorable Quotes (A very narrow selection - I felt like highlighting most of the book):
-"'Yes, painter,' said the blond. 'But you make your living as a baker, right?' 'I sold two paintings just last month,' said Lucien. 'I sucked off two bankers just last night,' said the whore. 'I'm a stockbroker now, no?'"
-"She smacked young Lucien in the head with a baguette. The crunchy yet tender crust wrapped around his head, bending but not breaking, showing that the oven had been precisely the right temperature, there had been exactly enough moisture, and in fact, by the ancient Lessard test method, it was perfect.. Lucien thought this was the way of all French boulangers, and he would be a young man before anyone explained to him that other bakers did not have a test boy who was smacked in the head with a loaf of bread every morning."
-"Monet had trained himself to be a machine for the harvest of color. With brush in hand, he was no longer a man, a father, or a husband, but a device of singular purpose; he was, as he had always introduced himself, the painter Monet."
-"The Colorman is like that carp, Lucien. In all of our paintings, Pissarro's, Renoir's, Sisley's, Morisot's - even poor Bazille, before he was shot in the war - even back then, from the first days when we all met in Paris, he is there, in all our art, just below the surface."
-"'Yes, but when you did the poster for the Moulin Rouge you didn't do a clown fucking a windmill.' 'Sadly, no, they rejected my first drawings. And I'm good friends with one of the clowns there, Cha-U-Kao. She would have modeled for me. She's both a clown and a lesbian. At the same time! Art weeps for the missed opportunity."
-"Toulouse-Lautrec unfolded the map until he had revealed the seventh level below the city, then looked to Lucien. 'It follows the streets as if on the surface.' 'Yes, but with fewer cafés, more corpses, and it's dark, of course.' 'Oh, well then, we'll just pretend we're visiting London.'"