This is a book about painting in the late 19th century, but mostly about the color blue. Blue pigment made from ultramarine was worth more than gold at one point. At the start of the book, Van Gogh dies and this news sends his friends and fellow painters in Paris into a great tumult. Two such painters, Lucien Lessard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec decide to do a bit of investigating and learn about the connection of strange women and the color blue to several painters, themselves included. Painters lose time and occasionally paintings, though alcohol was not involved. The story takes us not only to the present (of the 1890s) but back to the previous generation of painters and even further back to painters in the Renaissance and more.
This Christopher Moore book certainly does not disappoint. It has all the traits of his previous novels: humor, history, and heart. Part of the main reason I started reading Christopher Moore was because the books were funny. They’re wacky, and quirky, and other words not ending in “ky.” I have to try not to laugh at loud while I’m reading in public. The best is that he manages to find the humor in the historical setting. Some of the jokes are anachronistic, but that’s sort of a wink to the reader and perfectly acceptable.
The historical setting is Paris (for the most part) in the late 1800s during the time of the Impressionist painters and their followers. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec is a major character and many other painters of the time also appear throughout the story. I took a couple art history classes in college where I majored in history, so I very much appreciate the accuracy of the portrayal of the time and the people. I’m not sure what it is, but Toulouse seems to steal the show in each of his scenes (and this is not exclusive to this book, because it’s true of other portrayals of him in other stories and films), something I’m sure he would be delighted to know. In any case, it’s obvious that Moore did a lot of research into his subject. The book has images of the relevant paintings throughout, which lends a sense of reality to the story: these are actual people who lived during that time. I particularly appreciate that the author provided a chapter guide available on his website for an extra bit of the history involved as well as more pictures.
The characters in this book grab the reader’s attention and affection easily. That’s the beauty of Christopher Moore’s writing style–he brings characters, both historical and fictitious, to life. We understand fully why Jane Avril pats a very drunk Henri on the head to say good-bye after leaving him in Lucien’s care, wanting to give him a little pat or a hug ourselves because by this point in the book we have grown to love Henri.
I loved this book. I highly recommend it to any fan of Christopher Moore of course, but also to those who enjoy humorous fiction (and aren’t offended by the occasional dirty joke). This book is sure to make anyone laugh and perhaps even appreciate the art and artists of the late 19th century just a bit better.
Review by Jessica A.