I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that this is my first Christopher Moore book. He's one I've always intended to get around to reading, but somehow never managed to do it. A couple of weeks ago, a coworker was telling me about his visit to a van Gogh exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and how they kind of glossed over the vague details surrounding the artist's death - he went into a cornfield to paint and came out with a gunshot wound. That afternoon, I was bopping around on Goodreads and realized that Moore's book deals with the same question: what happened to Vincent van Gogh?
So this novel is one part historical fiction, one part surreal myth. When van Gogh succumbs to his gunshot wound, his artist friends question why he would shoot himself then walk a mile for medical help. Then there's the mysterious letter he left behind warning them to stay away from the sinister, enigmatic figure known only as the Colorman. Moore's main character is the fictional baker/aspiring painter Lucien Lessard but he also utilizes many real-life painters, most notably Henri Toulouse-Latrec. Monet's in there, too, as is Manet, Whistler, Gauguin - all of whom encounter the Colorman and his infamous Sacre Bleu paint as Moore's story bounces back and forth in time.
I was surprised by the number of negative or indifferent reviews that claimed this book isn't funny. Granted, I haven't read any of Moore's other works, so I have no basis for comparison but I thought this book was quite funny without crossing into wacky. For example: when he crosses paths with the American painter James Whistler, Lessard asks, "How's your mother?" It may not be funny-ha ha, but that's a fairly clever nod to the painter's most famous work, Whistler's Mother
. So maybe it helps if you have a basic understanding of late nineteenth century art history (my understanding is basic at best). Still, the scenes of Toulouse-Latrec (who, thanks to Moulin Rouge
, looks like John Leguizamo in my head) interacting with prostitutes are really fucking funny and there's enough snark in this book to last me a lifetime.
Moore weaves a tight, complicated plot in this book and I found myself completely sucked into his well-drawn characters. Sometimes the nonlinear narration was a little confusing, though, and I do wish the story had been trimmed down by about a hundred pages as the plot began to drag a little here and there. Overall, though, I found the book to be creative, unique, and well-written.