A Year of Books: 2012

reading in bedMost of the books I read tend to disappear from my memory within days of finishing – one of the reasons I started writing reviews was to keep a reference log as a reminder.  Some books this year stayed with me, and I can recall a magic 7 that would be worth recommending again:

Bring Up the Bodies: Hilary Mantel’s second historical fiction featuring Thomas Cromwell has me yearning for the last and third book yet to be published.

A Discovery of Witches and the sequel were fast adventures with a brilliant academic who also happens to be a witch who can time travel. Author Deborah Harkness promises a third in the series next year.

Son – Lois Lowry’s long awaited sequel to her award winning The Giver.

The Prisoner of Heaven –  Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Gothic tales are always an adventure.

The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau – Jon Agee’s picture book with pictures that come to life is one to keep on the shelf.

Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore must be read on real pages to appreciate the blue.

Train Dreams – Denis Johnson’s fictional history of the American West was short but intense.

What favorites from 2012 do you recommend?

Sacré Bleu – A Comedy D’Art

Although I had started reading Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu on my Kindle as I flew West, I stopped abruptly when my good friend told me her real book had the pictures in color. Mine were all in gray. Now with the book in hand, I can see I made the right decision. Not only does Moore sprinkle the narrative with great art from Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, and many others, the cover is blue, and if you look carefully, the print is too.

At first, Moore’s typically irreverent approach seems tame compared to some of his other books. This story opens with the death of Van Gogh, and creates a mystery around his death; was it suicide or murder?

“Who tries to kill himself by shooting himself in the chest, then walks a mile to seek medical attention?”

But soon Moore introduces a few notes to let you know he has more than an investigation in mind: a mysterious crooked man in a bowler hat who mixes colors; a strange source for the cerulean blue powder used for the precious ultramarine pigment; time travel that gives participants amnesia; and his usual mix of crazy happenings. As promised, the color blue affects all the action – along with Moore’s trademark other-worldly fantasy mayhem.

Claude Monet

In Moore’s story you are invited into the world of Lucien Lessard, a French baker aspiring to be a great artist like his famous nineteenth century customers. (Lucien seemed so real, I found myself looking for his name among the Impressionists.)  Juliette is his beautiful model who seems to have an affinity for artists and the unusual capacity to put them under her spell while posing nude.  

As she travels through history with the Colorman, she leaves a wake of inspired paintings and a few painters with syphilis.  Her influence is not restricted to portraiture; Turner’s light and Monet’s railcars in steam are products of her Muse. Look for the blue.

J.M.W. Turner

Moore’s use of famous paintings as the focus for the plot reminded me of Steve Martin’s rendition of the dark and shady side of art in his last book – An Object of Beauty – but Moore’s Sacré Bleu resembles more of a Grimm’s fractured fairy tale version of art history.  In his “Afterward: So, Now You’ve Ruined Art,” Moore acknowledges his historical sources – some he ignored or changed for the sake of the story, but if you are a fan of Moore’s imaginative mix of fast-moving plots with crazy yet witty characters (Fluke is one of my favorites), you expect him to be bawdy, funny, and weird.  If you are a lover of great art, be prepared to never look at a painting again without thinking of Moore’s explanations for their inspiration.

Always entertaining, Moore has produced another gem in his collection of fantastic tales.   But be sure to read this one with the blue pages in your hands.

Related ReviewSteve Martin’s “An Object of Beauty

Today is Shakespeare’s Birthday

Looking for a modern version of one of the Bard’s plays? You may not have thought of these…

Is David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle a retelling of Hamlet?    Could Christopher Moore’s Fool be King Lear?

Probably the best way to appreciate Shakespeare is to hear and see the plays.  Reading the language of Shakespeare is not easy; if you need a primer to re-read them, try Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, a children’s classic, but a great way to get the story line.