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Originally published Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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Book review

'Sacré Bleu': the color of creativity

Christopher Moore's novel "Sacré Bleu" is a mind-bending tribute to artists, the creative process and the color blue. Moore discusses his book Thursday, April 5, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Friday, April 6, at Seattle's University Book Store.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Christopher Moore

The author of "Sacré Bleu" will read at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Seattle, free (206-366-3333 or; and at 7 p.m. Friday, April 6, at the University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle, free (206-634-3400 or
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"Although he would not remember it, when Lucien was born, the first thing he saw as he peeked over the edge of the world was (his mother's bottom). Well, that can't be right, he thought. And he thought he might cry from the shock. Then the midwife flipped him over and the second thing he saw was the blue sky through the skylight. He thought, Oh, that's better. So he cried at the beauty and was at a total loss for words for almost a year. He wouldn't remember the moment, but the feeling would come back to him from time to time, when he encountered blue."

That sentiment — the emotional punch a single color can evoke — is at the heart of Christopher Moore's wildly entertaining "Sacré Bleu" (Morrow, 403 pp., $26.99).

Moore is no stranger to slightly twisted and often hilarious novels (his previous work includes "Fool," which combines aspects of King Lear with other Shakespeare plays, and the comedy/fantasy vampire tales "You Suck" and "Bite Me." With "Sacré Bleu," he offers another slightly twisted novel — this one about great painters and what inspires them.

Most of "Sacré Bleu" is set in a grand location for its subject: Paris in the late 19th century. (I say "most" because one of the features of this genre-bending book is time travel, and it moves smoothly among periods as distant as 38,000 BC).

Its starting point is the (real-life) death of Vincent van Gogh, shot in a wheat field. A suicide? No one is sure, least of all his fellow impoverished and driven painters. These include both genuine historical figures (such as randy, alcoholic and thoroughly charming Henri Toulouse-Lautrec) and invented (including the book's protagonist, aspiring painter Lucien Lessard).

Another character — perhaps the most memorable of all — is a temptress who goes by the name Juliette. She's had many other names, though, across the ages — and it's no spoiler to say that she is the shape-shifting muse who seduces Lessard, Toulouse-Lautrec and countless other artists of genius over the ages.

Her companion of sorts is a sinister figure known only as The Colorman, who pops up from time to time to sell paint to artists — especially the fabulous color known as "sacred blue" (because it is associated with the Virgin Mary's dress).

The way The Colorman produces his magical paint is ... Well, you need to read the book for that. Let's just say that it's most unusual.

Along the way, we meet a number of vivid supporting characters, including Lucien's mother (who wields her world-class nastiness like a sword) and a mad professor (who builds a pair of steam-powered stilts for Toulouse-Lautrec's damaged legs).

And then there's fin-de-siecle Paris itself, which comes alive here — especially the cafe regulars, prostitutes, starving artists and other denizens of seedy Montmartre.

That world, and the realm of artistic vision that lies tantalizingly beyond, is vividly rendered in "Sacré Bleu." It's a sly examination of art, inspiration, everyday magic and some seriously over-caffeinated painters.

Adam Woog's column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.

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