Opening right after the news of Van Gogh's death, his friends Lucien Lessard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec decide to investigate the somewhat suspicious suicide: shooting himself in the chest and then walking a mile to a doctor. They are caught by his fear of the color blue and a comment about the Colorman which will send them off on a romp through the world of Post-Impressionism, the production of ultramarine, and the roots of creative inspiration. Lucien is a baker and painter whose father introduced him into the art world and to the coterie of artists in Montmartre in the late 1800s. As Lucien and Toulouse-Lautrec try to uncover the identity of the Colorman and the secret behind his sacred blue color, Lucien, like so many artists before him, is captured by the muse in the form of a woman, Juliette. He is obsessed with her, painting an enormous blue nude and falling sick, almost to death of it. His experience, coupled with Toulouse-Lautrec's and their combined knowledge of other painters' experiences painting as well start to reveal the secret of the Colorman. To say more would be to reveal too much.
Like a typical Moore, there is much off-color bawdy humor and a zany, zigzagging plot. There is plenty of his signature absurdity and irreverence and the book is incredibly well-researched. Those with any art history knowledge will see much true history shining through the otherwise absurd story. Those who are not familiar with the big names of the Post-Impressionist movement might have a more difficult time untangling the fanciful from that based on reality. Moore plays with the idea of the creative muse, madness, and the idea of immortality through art. He takes the concept of an artist infusing his own love and pain into the very paint on the canvas and warps it in a very Moore-ish kind of way. And of course, as any reader expects of Moore's books, there are all sorts of penis jokes, a reanimated corpse, a slowing or stopping of time, and a fair bit of debauchery included here. But somehow, despite the hallmarks of his work being fully present, this novel was still surprisingly slow and plodding. The narrative jumped back and forth in time--sometimes quite far back--in not only Lucien's life but also the Colorman's and the elusive Bleu's. It wandered far and wide, touching on artists of every stripe. Perhaps the idea was too broad, examining the origins of a single color or perhaps the real lives of the artists were already too close to a Christopher Moore book, but this was missing the wonderful spark that has so infused his other novels.