Globe and Mail Book Reviews

In April I pitched a review of Fifty Shades of Grey to the Globe and Mail, instead they got me to review two comic novels. Here they are. It was wonderful to read two intentionally funny novels for a change.  

Globe and Mail – The Daily Review, Thursday, May 24

Two satirists named Christopher

Published Online Wednesday, May. 23, 2012 5:00PM EDT

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? By Christopher Buckley. 12 Books, 352 pages, $28.99

Sacré Blue: A Comedy D’Art, by Christopher Moore. HarperCollins, 394 pages, $29.99

The theme of the book is fabricated fear. The Senate nixes defence project “Dumbo,” which kills a lucrative defence project for Groepping-Sprunt.

Firm CEO Chick Devlin instructs Bird to grow American fears about China so Groepping-Sprunt can get funding for another top-secret U.S. defence system. Enter Ann Coulter-inspired Angel Templeton, a sexy, military-minded woman with a PhD, an eight-year-old child and a closet full of miniskirts.

Bird and Angel must set out to find – or create – a motive for war with China. Then comes the answer to their prayers: The Dalai Lama gets sick while visiting the Pope. It’s just food poisoning, but Angel and Bird leak a story to an Indian website, The Delhi Beast, offering an alternative explanation: The Chinese government poisoned him. After all, “the Dalai Lama is the one thing with China that the Americans actually care about.”

Meanwhile, members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, who “look like a delegation of identical, overpaid dentists,” surround Fa Mengyao, president of the People’s Republic of China (who has nightmares about seeing the face of his dead father on a dumpling). The president is a moderate, but some of his party feel that killing the Dalai Lama might not be such a bad idea.

The American-Chinese relationship is timely fodder for a political satirist. Buckley’s humorous take on serious issues such as China’s treatment of Tibet, America’s financial dependency on China, and gun-toting flag-wavers are what make this book worth the read.

Christopher Moore set out to write about the colour blue in his “Comedy d’Art,” Sacré Bleu.

Set mostly in Paris during the Belle Époque, the novel opens with the murder of Vincent van Gogh, a typical Moore-ian twist. Lucien Lessard is a baker and aspiring Montmartre artist. When Lucien first hears of the death of his friend van Gogh, presumed to be a suicide, he seeks out Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, famous for his paintings of the Moulin Rouge, diminutive stature and love of women and booze.

Lucien and Henri develop suspicions about the true nature of van Gogh’s death. As they start to seek the truth, they unravel a mystery that has lurked for centuries in the shadows of the art world: a gnarled character called only Colorman has been providing artists with unique paints that have mystical powers like the ability to stop time.

Complicating the story is Juliette, a muse of exceptional powers, who walks back into Lucien’s life. Lucien begins to paint like he never has before, causing him to abandon his familial duty of testing baguettes by getting hit in the head with them. Matters are complicated when it’s revealed that the muse is entangled with Colorman.

At times, Moore’s characters are themselves thinly painted. Juliette, the main female character, amounts to nothing more than a glorified sex object. Her attraction to Lucien is barely justified and underdeveloped. Moore’s de Toulouse-Lautrec is restricted to two modes of operation: fornicating and drinking. It’s amusing at first, but the joke gets old after the first 100 pages.

Despite this, Moore’s story is impressively crafted. He takes the reader back and forth through time, weaving through memories and impressions to unravel the mystery of the Colorman.

Art lovers will appreciate the appearances of the Belle Époque’s iconic creative community, including Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas and Cézanne. Full colour pictures of their great paintings appear in the text, and Moore populates the book with characters inspired by them. The attention to detail runs throughout the book, right down to the rich blue text the words are printed in.

Sacré Bleu is an art-history lesson, paranormal mystery and love story, combined. Like a Monet or Seurat painting, it works from far way, even if up close it can be a bit of a mess.

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