The beginning puts the reader right into a dramatic scene, then there’s what feels like an art history lesson similar to my Elementary school days. In between all this serious intellectual painting knowledge, the reader is taken to the “present” and then to a flashback. (I’m still trying to comprehend the finer details of this story so I’m satisfied by page 34 I finally read something which is old Moore humor by way of pigeons. It’s serious subject matter with snippets of joker-y, which of course Moore has down to a T, but I want more than what I am given. It’s a pattern I’ve developed recently.) It becomes also about lost loves coming back and how art is tightly wound around people’s memories and emotions. Lucien, Van Gogh’s friend is also a painter and working through his painful desertion and the resurfacing of his well-known lost love.
Then, more back story about the Colorman. (I’m reminded of the “color lady” in Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. There’s even a flashback with Lucien which reminded me of Squee’s Wonderful Big Giant Book of Unspeakable Horrors by Jhonen Vasquez, which the reference in itself should imply some form of strange violence with a comedic dialogue. This is also where I start to concieve the rhythm of Moore humour which spurs the story along.) Little Lucien is a sensitive, spunky lad who is made to believe he is going to have to “conk a grandmother on the head” for pie filling which his father thought was a good joke, similar to first job-hazing rituals. Lucien didn’t take it so well, and promptly goes about making his papa regret his ruse.
I must give kudos on the Oscar (Wilde) drop, as well. After reading everything he’s written I better be able to reap the benefits of catching vague “referend-i”. Now I’m understanding the nuance to this story, I’m able to meander along with it when it dictates. It’s still layered with the right kind of bawdy humor to evenly weigh the “romahnce”. Lucien’s character is also becoming more easily empathized with when he’s met as an adorable witty little urchin. Moore also introduces a couple other main characters who are odd and trying to learn the mysteries of this story along with the reader. They get into funny dirty-minded referenced jokes and all the better, whilst traveling this dark and light-obsessed Parisian set-time.
The story starts to show more heart by chapter 13 when some background on Lucien’s father is related, through his sister Régine when she explains to her husband the strange goings on and her inability to stop any of it. I love this story for it’s mystery, drama, hilarity, strange people populating the city and it’s manipulations and devious plots, it’s what I need. The speculation as to whether Van Gogh actually killed himself is also twisted upon, which is exciting, as well as meet Van Gogh’s brother who has a touching moment with Lucien in his gallery. Henri becomes much more interesting once more about him is uncovered. Profeseur “Bahstard” makes Henri Toulouse-Lautrec an invention which at first seemed pointless, fleshing out to become something which was tickle-like in description, and being, “…mechanical, steam-farting…”; I appreciated the imagery. Also the scene right after was ridiculously funny as well.
Then it becomes a learning experience once again as a science experiment is explained. Moore loves his random knowledge purges. (I’m not arguing, though; he tends to make me accept it when he rewards with such hilarity.) Another mystery which makes Lucien wonder if the Colorman’s blue paint is poison of some kind is next mentioned, Lucien still bothered by some unanswered and repeatedly avoided questions to Bleu, he visiting Le Profeseur who has news about some cave drawing Lucien air-headedly couldn’t unearth significance. Once the Profeseur explains further, he understands it’s because of the blue pigment in the drawings he wants to test, and extends Lucien and Henri an invitation, if he could be found. The Profeseur becomes similar to “Doc Brown” of Back to the Future since he seems to be a truth-seeker and denies no learning of knowledge; I have adopted the same philosophy. The Profeseur and Lucien meet their guide on the trip there and they prepare to see the paintings. They share theories about the people who drew the pictures when they reach the start of them. They also speculate the reason for the paintings, which isn’t to describe a story, but another more fascinating theory. They reach the spot the Belgian professor guide wrote the Profeseur about the blue. They also notice a pattern in the paintings which brings more scope to the myth of the Colorman. The Belgian Professor gives them an impressive number of years the paintings have been preserved, all speculative of course. Then a horrifying thought occurs to Lucien and the chapter ends.
At one point Henri is dining with Oscar Wilde and sharing with him the tale of the Colorman and I’m already guessing what Wilde would have turned it into, which was easy to figure out. When they leave, Henri sees his Carmen across the street and Wilde continues on his pub crawl alone where the next day his notes of the Colorman’s story confirms my Wilde knowledge; gold star to me. It then goes way back in time to learn about the history of the Painted People. It continues to get better as a war is observed. (Danny Devito would be perfect to play the Colorman, if it isn’t too presumptuous of me to say.) Anyways, he wakes in an uncomfortable, but otherwise healthy condition. His excuses to the concierge of the quarters is what prompted me to think of Devito. It quickly moves back to Juliette updating Lucien and Henri of what getting rid of the Colorman permanently would require. She also continues to supply them with small details which reassure Henri she isn’t all of their female liaisons and Lucien asks more questions until uncovering how Bleu is a slave to the Colorman. Both boys enlist their help to release her from the Colorman’s “chain” on her.
Juliette, when implementing her plan, feigns innocence to shooting the Colorman when he asks, and seemingly succeeds, she also makes him believe Henri and Lucien were memory wiped with the last of the Bleu saving them from being shot which the Colorman was looking forward to doing (buying a “new” gun and all). Somewhere during this time, Lucien and Juliette continue their affair in not-so-close quarters due to some business-related difficulties, but they make it work. Meanwhile, the Colorman seems quite apt to killing a body, but Bleu successfully has stories to save everyone and an idea to pacify the Colorman. Next scene starts with Lucien getting tested with the bread and sticking up for his seniority. Then Lucien gets a reminder of his mother being more than a “mother-shaped storm”, but also a woman, with hips…Ha-ha, when the Colorman walks in and Lucien denies knowing Juliette, and whilst playing innocent the description of what must have been his perverted grin brings the continuing light with dark humor. It makes me want to buy my own copy more passionately.
The Colorman history begins mystically and amusingly, unsurprisingly. Colorman learned early on he could scare ladies with his “large man-tackle.” We also learn his name immediately, which I won’t divulge, tee-hee. He was instantly hated by his clan, but was protected by his shaman mother until her death, then he was promptly kicked out. His mother teaches him all her shaman-knowledge, giving him his magical edge. Colorman retreats to the woods, not knowing much in survival skills, other than how to make a fire (better than most) and protective shaman songs to keep his spirits up when an explosion rocks the area. More fun ensues… He heads towards it, thinking he’d be protected from predators. He locates a stone and hurries away with it. The center of the crater was glowing blue and he decides to make his way back to his cave. He examines his discovery and notices it is also a bright blue color and when he breaks it in two, dust powder comes from the stone which seems significant. Then a village girl who used to look at him with disgust, comes into his cave and has a sparkle in her eye. This is much like having the “smurf-like hooker” in Bloodsucking Fiends gone mystical. When the girl from the village passes out like all the others possessed by Bleu, Colorman also begins his horn-dog habits which he had such trouble stopping himself from performing. Bleu of course doesn’t know about this early on and is perfectly at ease with the Colorman who brings her and the blue powder to the village as a peace offering to allow his return, but he had taken the village girl who already had a partner and was killed by him, the first of many. The Colorman gets his revenge, mostly with the help of Bleu since she goes to retrieve his body. Then begins the start of their journey through villages selling Bleu. The next village is also where he gets his name as the Colorman.
After the enlightening background, Henri and Carmen (Bleu) are having some fun in kimono’s and wigs whilst painting, when Bleu feels the old familiar pull of the Colorman and insists on having to leave with the painting. The Colorman is not amused by her tricks and is starting to realize her insubordination and plans revenge. The Belgian Professor is also revealed to be partially responsible for his resurrection which has to do with the Colorman’s drawings in the cave. The Colorman observes the Juliette body without Bleu, as Bleu walks in as Carmen leading the Colorman to believe she wasn’t trying to kill him, but was waiting for him to make more color, since she had two paintings waiting as proof. She has a plan executed on the Colorman and Henri walks in, surprising perhaps no one and is about to help dispose of certain objects when the Colorman tries a last attempt at redeeming himself.
When describing violent fantasies attached to Bleu, it brings back thoughts of Jody from Bloodsucking Fiends, post-fangs,which I adore of Moore. Also the fact she is quite annoyed by the cumbersome dressing attire of the time and the bodily awkwardness which comes from wearing said attire in warm weather. She determines her last straw of annoyance when the Colorman answers her question of what appointment he and Etienne the donkey could have with a maid, when the answer given is, “Penis.”; a recurring answer for the simple fellow, she points his walking stick at his eye as he continues how he’s saddened his penis no longer has the desired shocking effect as often as it used to with women. Bleu lets it go and reminisces being with Lucien and how it’s affecting her appetite to catch a new painter to seduce into painting portraits.
The idea the Colorman possibly could have been the Hunchback of Notre Dame and a moment of possible delusion is related. He getting a bit more sordid of a character background when he lures a young lady with an apple who is simpler-than-he in nature, and eventually gets her “roofied” until the next day where he’s trying to communicate to her to take off her clothes, so he can proceed to lather her with the diluted-Sacre’ Bleu paint to incite some rage from Bleu, most likely. Then the bone to which Bleu’s delusional possible relation to holiness is further explained. Bleu is maddened by the Colorman’s covering the simple girl’s body with the paint, as expected, and was also confessed to not only the fact she now inhabited said simple girl’s body, but he also confesses he diddled her before rising her back from the dead after an unfortunate death similar to vampires or witches. Which it is then learned she may be something darker rather than divine. After being risen Bleu gets them to leave Notre Dame due to the town’s ignorance and obsession with evil and religion. After, the Colorman and Bleu compromise an acceptable plan for her to return to Lucien’s but with the blue paint, and the Colorman’s need of her help to make it, but is trying to keep her unaware of its prepared ingredients, the Colorman then confides if she can’t make the boys who are figuring out her ruse forget, she’ll have to, “finish them.”
The Profeseur tries a rudimentary hypnotizing tactic, which only succeeds in him learning the time. Taking every opportunity for an oddity Henri spots a monkey skull to momentarily drink Brandy out of. After, Lucien tries a second time and descends in a hypnotic memory where he recognizes the Colorman appearing twice, in his past. The second mentioned is when Lucien is around 14. The Colorman is selling to Monsieur Monet and there is a girl nearby, but it’s unknown whether it’s Juliette. It turns out to be Margot, the girl M. Renoir had painted. She goes off with the Colorman, and Lucien states he will try to follow them.
The next part shares the first-hand memory from Lucien’s perspective in the Gare-Saint Lazare train Station. Lucien comes off like the little Igor kid in Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie“. Monet gets Lucien started in setting up easels so he can capture the smoke from the engines. The manager even helps by bringing an engine in to steam the station for the artist. Especially since he came in on a whim and basically charmed the man into accepting his presence to paint the area. Lucien recalls Monet being able to paint six paintings in half an hour! Which is contested by Henri when Lucien is brought out of his hypnosis to see Monet and Henri going to Brussels for a showing of his paintings.
The Colorman is then brought back to share his role in making not only the Sacre Bleu, but all the colors, since he likes how it, “frightened the maids.” The Colorman runs into another painter he can try and sell to and another mysterious conversation dealing with the Colorman’s name is shared. Mere Lessard speaks so warmly, it helps me glamorize the French aesthetic, which is not what David Sedaris provides, which is from an autobiographical, satirical, reality-based standpoint. I wish I had the opportunity to meet people like Mrs. Lessard, who are genuinely kind. Lucien goes to meet with Monet who has a garden described in such a way as to wanting to be physically there. For Monet, who seems utterly enchanting, seems to be a slave to his ability to paint with color. Monet’s facial description is piercing and all of this artistic knowledge is giving me the itch to sketch, or at least read more about painters.
Moore kills this book with artistic style. Every time I read a bit, I’m thrust into a thoroughly vivid world, with dreams written in as an engaging way. Etienne’s thoughts as the Colorman talks to him are shown (similar to some of his other minor animal characters from earlier works), and it’s quite funny to imagine Etienne’s emotional indifference to mostly everything the Colorman talks with him about, similar to Eeyore or perhaps Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Henri goes to a restaurant which has paid him to paint and asks Lucien to accompany him for opinion-sake. Also Moore was able to get a joke involving a windmill and a lesbian in the same paragraph. I keep warming more to this book!) It caters to my brand of humour and brightens the dark, like a dirty beacon of reality in delusion, like life, to bring it back around.
Lucien lets Henri know about how, with the Colorman, there’s a woman dealer to get the paints for the artist from him, in all cases the women become ill first, if they recover at all. They plan to get Carmen in front of Lucien’s painting for the delusional blue and see if it helps her remember anything. Finally the ability behind what Bleu does in a bit more detail is described. Some of her hosts are found in varying “conditions”. Afterwards, following Bleu in another body trying to get a drunk cabbie to drive her somewhere, in his opinion, too far unless given an overpriced fare or a little something else from her 14-year-old Polynesian girl body. If the following entices one, it isn’t what it seems, and is more of a joke than to be taken seriously. Catch the Moore drift?
The next scene makes me relate to said 14-year-old waif, due to her dangerous nature and lack of others knowledge of such. The cabbie continues to try and test her patience as she can barely get him to follow directions due to scorn and stubbornness; he escapes her wrath in a high and dry sort of way, fortunately for him. Lucien discovers his stolen painting and discovers Henri in a whorehouse to notify him and help him locate it. It’s one of the funnier and risque chapters due to the state Henri and a few of the “tarts” are in, when he arrives. There’s also some pretty good jokes involving the confusion between Sisyphus and syphilis. By the end of this chapter, another Van Gogh death is told. Sacre’ Bleu, the color, was described as being beautiful, but the process is not. The Colorman consistently doing the mischievous option so one knows what to look for when coming back to him. I adopt the feeling of annoyance from Bleu, although he is quite funny, he’s also appalling, but he successfully pushes the story forward to the point of circling the drain of why Vincent Van Gogh died; grr. I’m still enjoying reading of other painters and their eccentricity and romanticism. The best chapter end, yet! Something even more violent and entertaining continues to drive the story, we also uncover the Colorman’s procedure on making sacre’ Bleu.
The next bit has Lucien and Henri talking with Gauguin about Van Gogh’s death and whether it was too soon to pay respects to his mother. They realize Gauguin has selfish reasons to call on Van Gogh’s mother, quite despicable! Gauguin becomes a funny slapstick straight-man, essentially, and Moore gives most of his segue’s an end which is wild or funny in some way, but not necessarily over-the-top; which is part of the fun, too. Fortunately, the rest of why Gauguin acted strangely over a letter left to Lucien by way of the little “Tahitian” girl and Mrs. Van Gogh, who gave it to him is mentioned. On a side-note, after reading so many of Moore’s books, this one also makes the ranks of reading like a great movie script, as well. After following the note’s instructions with dramatic results, it’s cut away to Henri “facing-off” with Lucien on the floor when he revives from his blackout and learns it’s due to their being no more Cognac. When they both revive themselves from their stupor’s they follow Lucien’s dream place, to discover Juliette actually there waiting for them, which overwhelms Lucien to tears, in a sweet ro-mahn-tic way.
They have an intimate greeting, shared with as a witness, Henri, who acted graciously surprised to glimpse them as they were. Once they come back to reality Juliette is confronted with what’s been going on with the Colorman. She relents after requesting for a drink, which Henri hilariously had more than once choice of. She admits she knew Lucien would go to the mine when he remembered his first encounter with the Colorman; since she was there as well. She then explains the whole truth. Which to learn, brings us into mind of an interesting mythological being. Also, she encloses Juliette was for Lucien, made for him. So madly, archaically, sweet. The reveal is completely worth the wait since it’s not at the end. By the end of her confession, though, the table turns a bit more to uncover Bleu had no choice but to follow the Colorman, which I won’t describe, wouldn’t want to ruin it. Moore doesn’t leave them in sorrow though. For, it is not the Moore Way. In the end of the scene, Lucien and Henri are grinning uncontrollably with the knowledge they “nailed” a goddess and by the end of the chapter Henri marvels at a goddess cussing.
A description of the Painted People, which begins with a Commander dictating a letter about them and how their force had been “lost” and all this implies is gone over. Although, more interesting is the Painted People worship this new King called the Color Bringer with his warrior woman (who is reminding me of The Sequined Love Nun). Going forth, it ends with a message from the blue painted people which read perfectly, but simply in Latin, what had happened to their Legionnaire commander was an accident which couldn’t be helped, leaving him bodiless and found with a message at the governor’s quarters. It doesn’t bode well for him, unfortunately, but it was entertaining reading about it, unlike Crichton (I was reading Pirate Latitudes at the same time; oy). Then Bleu’s point-of-view of how they found the Picts tribe, a.k.a. Color People is related. The people did “fucking love” them as Bleu put it, when trying to convince the Colorman. They certainly did love her in a goddess-lover way. They loved them both so much, they made the Picts attack and surround the governor’s quarters so quickly as to not be noticed until where we left them with the letter writing. It continues to get better as we’re given a war to observe. Anyways, he wakes in an uncomfortable, but otherwise healthy condition. His excuses to the concierge of the quarters is what prompted me to think of Devito; flippin’ Philly…
A segue to Seurat who’s painting The Circus is shared, which is all set up for a new model to grab his attention and forced into accepting to paint. Moving back to Lucien and the Profeseur being introduced to Henri’s singer lady friend, Jane Avril who awaited his friends arrival so she could go home to sleep off the drinking night. It was all amusingly set up. Henri believed he was “cheating” by eating someone else’s bread, mistakenly in his drunken stupor. Avril tries to match Henri’s drinking binge and does not succeed, of course. They go on to converse about news in Altamira identifying drawings without blue pigment, Henri mentions the Picts painting themselves blue to the surprise of the Profeseur, who returning from Spain to uncover more about the origin of the Colorman and seeing a depiction in Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. After Lucien catches the Profeseur up on events they learned of the Colorman, the information puts the Profeseur in an existential crisis.
When next Lucien and Henri are followed, they are tracking the Colorman, detective-style, which according to a cabby, they fail at comparison with Sherlock Holmes. They follow the Colorman to the catacombs where a man stays at the entrance and acts as gatekeeper for the lit part of the area which he closes at dark and charges for, but he rationalizes, he doesn’t go down in them so any dirty business doesn’t include him. Lucien and Henri go in, trailing the Colorman and nervously making their way into the catacombs. They begin feeling guilty by the thought of what they planned on doing and Lucien remembered how his father got him to get over killing rats; more satirical fun. They discover the Colorman in a large chamber, almost getting too close. After handling the situation they look through the stolen paintings. They complete what needs doing according to Bleu. There’s also other mysteries and rumors deflated. By the end, they are celebrating with more cognac provided a la Lautrec in the presence of Carmen and Lucien. He is then promptly conquered by seemingly unknown forces. The fact it was something new convinced Bleu they were at least rid of the Colorman.
Henri is wistful since this means his Carmen won’t technically be available to him, since Bleu is entirely Lucien’s now. Bleu tries to ease his mind by letting him know Carmen will know her beauty because of him. Bleu must erase Carmen’s memory since knowing the extremely unreal occurrences would break her noodle. Bleu sets Henri up for a physical blow to the face by Carmen with the blue paint ending up on both. Successfully rendering them both forgetful. Bleu awaits Carmen in her apartment with the Colorman’s remains in a jar. Lucien then gets more questions answered about the lengthy amount of deaths the Colorman sustained-ish. A similar flavor to “Let the Right One In“. She still needs the sacre bleu made and wants Lucien to do it. He allows himself to be convinced bit by bit when Bleu has it all planned out how he’ll be protected, what would happen with the bakery, etc. Henri takes Lucien leaving in stride and they go on to talk of Henri’s plans. They all meet back at Henri’s for cognac. Then Lucien tries to break the news to his sister of she not being responsible for their sister’s death or of their father’s “infidelity”. Even though she doesn’t buy his story she appreciates his good heart under the layers of stupidity (which makes me continue to wish the family I have had to interact with had the same quality of good-heartedness their stupidity could fall back on, but ce’ la vie). At the end of the scene Regine breaks the news to their mother and it’s taken in stride so Lucien considers it a task well-tried and leaves it.
Then the epilogue thrusts us into 2012 MoMA and get a taste of Juliette and Lucien looking at Picasso’s Starry Night which Bleu takes responsibility for and has a memento which would make anyone laugh and roll their eyes. I’m going to read this again for certain. *Sigh of relief* I can still rely on one thing not to change: Moore taking me away to a laughably insane and fun to imagine, anywhere-better-than-here, place.