That's how Christopher Moore characterizes Sacré Bleu. It's also a mystery, a comedy and a dizzying, dazzling trip through the art world of fin-de-siecle Paris.
I read somewhere that every single one of Christopher Moore's books has been optioned but not one has ever made it to film. I think it must be because producers eventually realize that it's just too much of a challenge to translate the sheer lunacy and demented sweetness of Moore's books to the screen.
The book begins on the day of Vincent Van Gogh's death in Auvers, a village near Paris. Vincent has gone to a crossroads to paint. The history is that Van Gogh there shot himself, then walked a mile to the home of his doctor to seek treatment. Moore wondered if it made any sense that an artist at the height of his powers, even one as tormented as Van Gogh, would shoot himself at that point. And then, why would he walk a mile to his doctor's place rather than just lie down and die? Moore appoints baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard, and famed painter and libertine Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as his alter-ego detectives to pursue the answer to this puzzle. The pursuit involves Renoir, Manet, Monet, Whistler, Pissarro, Gaugin, Seurat, a menacing character called the Colorman, the artists' muses, a few side trips through time and space, and lots and lots about the color blue.
It's been a long time since I read a book in one afternoon, but once I started reading, I couldn't stop. Now, here I sit with my eyes burning and my head filled with whirling images of the adventures of the naive young Lucien and his usually drunk and lubricious but always endearing friend, Toulouse-Lautrec. In the Afterword, Moore writes, "I know what you're thinking: 'Well thanks loads, Chris, now you've ruined art for everyone.'" Far from it. He's definitely made it a whole lot weirder, but isn't that what you're looking for from one of his books?
Moore always travels to the settings of his books before he writes and, in this case, that means France, mainly Paris. If you visit his blog. he has included a chapter guide where, as he says, "you'll find some photographs, a little background on the geography, history, and art featured in the book, as well as observations and musing I had while researching and writing the book that just wouldn't fit in the story, but I hope will give some perspective on it." Before, during or after you read the book, I highly recommend a visit to the blog and the chapter guide. Among many other items of interest---and more extensive attempts to ruin art for everyone---there are photographs of Auvers, the village where Van Gogh was living at the end of his life, including the real-life settings of several Van Gogh paintings, juxtaposed with the paintings themselves.
In addition to being a flat-out joyride of a novel, this is a beautifully produced book, with typefaces evocative of its 19th century Parisian setting and reproductions of artworks of Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and many other luminaries of the period. Recommended.