Sunday, April 22, 2018
Books

Review: Historical comedy 'Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art' by Christopher Moore gives a starry new look at Vincent van Gogh

The popular account of Vincent van Gogh's suicide claims the troubled painter wandered into a field, shot himself with a revolver and then limped home to seek treatment. But that makes "no sense" to comic writer Christopher Moore. So he kicks off his bawdy new novel, Sacre Bleu, with a characteristically zany version of his own.

Vincent is painting in a field when "a twisted little man" known as the Colorman steps out of the corn and demands a painting: "The picture, Dutchman, or no more blue for you." An argument ensues, and the Colorman's revolver goes off, shooting Vincent in the chest. He dies, but not before warning his brother, Theo, to hide the painting. "Keep her from him," Vincent begs. "The little man."

Watching that mystery unfold is part of the fun in Sacre Bleu. From that opening scene, the novel leaps to the bakery of young Lucien Lessard, an aspiring painter living in Montmartre. When Lucien gets word of Vincent's death, he sprints to tell his friend Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and they set out on a delightfully ribald romp to figure out exactly what happened to van Gogh.

The two make for a splendid dynamic duo. Lucien is a starry-eyed romantic for whom stories about famous paintings "were the fairy tales of his childhood," while Toulouse-Lautrec, when he's not with a French prostitute, is an unfailingly loyal comic hero.

Moore's work has tended to fall into what one critic called the "zonked-out comic horror" category, but Sacre Bleu is different. Let's call it a historical comedy, with an emphasis on the comedy. There's even a soupcon of art criticism along with a number of color reproductions of famous paintings. For example, when Lucien sees Diego Velazquez's Venus at Her Mirror, he comments, "She was a beauty to be sure, and because she was looking at you looking at her, in a mirror held by a cherub, there was just the slightest feeling of naughtiness, the voyeur exposed."

Moore says that "the possibilities absolutely explode" when you set a novel in late 19th century France, and he takes full advantage of them. Renoir, Monet and all the other great artists of the period make appearances, as does Oscar Wilde, whom Moore uses at the end of Sacre Bleu to take a final, knowing jab at scribblers everywhere. "Write, write, write, Oscar," Toulouse-Lautrec says, "it's what men do when they can't make real art."

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Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

Mystery writer Lee Goldberg, author of ‘True Fiction,’ talks Agatha Christie, and more

NightstandLee GoldbergGoldberg, the author of 30 books, has also been a writer and producer for several TV shows, including Monk and Diagnosis Murder. His new novel is True Fiction, an Ian Ludlow mystery. When we caught up with him by phone recently ...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Events: SunLit Festival concludes with Jack Kerouac event, Antiquarian Book Fair and more

Events: SunLit Festival concludes with Jack Kerouac event, Antiquarian Book Fair and more

Book Talk The fourth annual SunLit Festival concludes today with these events. For information, go to facebook.com/sunlitfestival or keepstpetelit.org/sunlit-festival. All events are in St. Petersburg. • 37th annual Florida Antiquarian Book F...
Published: 04/20/18
Review: Gilbert King’s ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ a compelling, horrifying look at Florida’s racist history

Review: Gilbert King’s ‘Beneath a Ruthless Sun’ a compelling, horrifying look at Florida’s racist history

If Willis McCall were a fictional character, he’d be too far over the top to be believable. Readers (and editors) would scoff that no one could be such a monster of violent, unabashed racism — and get away with it for so long. But McCall...
Published: 04/20/18
Notable: Advice-givers write about their own life choices

Notable: Advice-givers write about their own life choices

NotableSince you askedThree women whose jobs involve giving advice write about navigating their own life choices.Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions From a Modern Advice Columnist (Grand Central) by Meredith Goldstein, the Love Letters columnist...
Published: 04/20/18
Rachel Slade talks books, magic hands in the library and the sinking of El Faro

Rachel Slade talks books, magic hands in the library and the sinking of El Faro

NightstandRachel SladeIn her new book, Into the Raging Sea, Slade gives an in-depth account of the tragic sinking of the El Faro, the Jacksonville-based container ship plummeted to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Joaquin. While rese...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Book review: James Comey wants to explain himself

Book review: James Comey wants to explain himself

In 2016, as the director of the FBI, James Comey publicly dissected Hillary Clinton’s email server controversy. Later, we learned that Comey was keeping to himself the beginnings of an investigation into Russia’s active interference in the U.S. elect...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Henry David Thoreau once heaved a big stone against the trunk of a chestnut tree to bring down a shower of nuts. He loved their sweet meat, but the meal filled him with guilt. "It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injur...
Published: 04/18/18
Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida got a shoutout from the Pulitzer Prizes on Monday: The 2018 literary prize for history was awarded to University of Florida professor Jack E. Davis for his book The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.Davis, who grew up in Pinellas County and...
Published: 04/16/18
Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

NotableLegends 2.0Three new books offer striking reimaginings of the tales and legends of different cultures. Children of Blood and Bone (Henry Holt and Co.) by Tomi Adeyemi is a debut YA novel of epic magical adventure with characters based on the O...
Published: 04/13/18
Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Lots of things to do for literary-minded folks in Tampa Bay, and most of them are free.
Published: 04/12/18