A word of warning: I am not a skilled book reviewer. I don’t say this in a self-depreciating manner, they way an experienced knitter might say, “Oh, I’m not very good” all the while knowing they can easily recreate any sweater they see.
While a book lover and enthusiastic reader, I simply am not adept at offering well-worded appraisals of the books I read.
I view reading, and the response to books, as very personal. I internalize my reactions and they are wholly mine. I’ve never attempted to convince others to read or not read a book I’ve loved or hated because I assume other readers have personal responses as well.
But I recently set a goal to try to learn the ability to review books. I won’t probably write them often, but it seems like a good skill to possess. At the very least I will be able to offer a better response than “I liked it” when someone asked about a book I’ve read.
Writing a one thousand word book review on my first attempt sounded scary, so I’ve chosen to write two shorter reviews on the pair of books I finished most recently.
Sacré Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore.
If you’ve glanced at even one or two of my blog posts, you’ll know that Christopher Moore is my favorite author. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal is simply the best book I have ever read even though I’m not usually drawn to humorous novels.
After Lamb, I immediately read every other book Moore has written and enjoyed them all, although not nearly as much as the first.
I especially anticipated the 2010 release of Fool. I figured if I loved Moore’s retelling of Christ’s life as a non-religious person, than I was going to adore his retelling of King Lear even more as a theater person.
But I was disappointed in Fool. It just didn’t work as well as I wanted it to.
I had lower expectations for Sacré Bleu and was happy when the book exceeded them. It’s now my second favorite Christopher Moore book.
Sacré Bleu starts with the death of Vincent Van Gough. Although widely held that Van Gough committed suicide, this book puts forth that he was actually murdered.
The rest of the novel focuses on two of Van Gough’s friends, Lucien Lessard and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec in the aftermath of Van Gough’s death.
The supernatural element that Moore so often includes in his novels comes in the form of Bleu, the artistic muse to beat all muses, who changes bodies and lives forever, inspiring art from the cave dwellers of 38,000 BC to tribes fighting the Roman empire in 122 AD and a current day Bronx graffiti artist.
Bleu’s power and timelessness come from the color blue, long sacred in the church as the color of the Virgin Mary’s cloak.
Moore shares this history of the sacred blue in “Interludes in Blue” that are scattered throughout the book.
Along with creating strange, yet somehow believable characters, one of the things that Moore does best is coin hilarious phrases. I still find myself using “fucktard” years after reading Lamb. “Poopstick” was my favorite from Sacré Bleu. I laughed out loud every time I read it.
The biggest disappointment with Sacré Bleu was the hyped app that accompanies the book.
I downloaded it before starting the novel and tried to use the chapter guides as I read, but it was too sensitive to touch. As I scrolled down the page, it would flip instead to the next or previous chapter.
An update promised to fix the problem, but instead it reduced the type to only two or three words on each line, which was as much or more annoying.
I ended up removing it from my phone and just reading the book, which ended my frustration.
All in all, Sacré Bleu is entertaining and informative. I learned about art, but even with limited art knowledge I was able to “get” some of the inside jokes. (A particular favorite involved Oscar Wilde and I found myself actually yelling out “The Picture of Dorian Gray!”).
I’d highly recommend Sacré Bleu if you like exceptionally well written, quirky stories of the art you thought you knew.
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.
I was lucky enough to see Chris Bohjalian speak around the time that The Night Strangers hit the shelves, so I felt in the know when I finally picked it up in paperback.
I knew that it had to do with airplane crashes, mysterious basements doors and a coven of maybe witches.
Indeed, all these elements do exist in The Night Strangers, but there’s a lot more too.
I related to the story of Chip and Emily Linton and their teenager daughter’s moving to a small New Hampshire town after Chip crashes an airplane into Lake Champlain killing thirty nine of his passengers. I was engaged in what happened to them and wanted to find out what happened.
But it was the way the story was told that kept me reading as much as the story itself. I felt like I was watching a master at work.
I have read almost everything Bohjalian has written and never before been as struck by his skill.
The parts of the book from Chip’s point of view are told in the second person. I’ve never read a second person narrator before and have often wondered how and if it would work. Although it took me a few sections to get into it, the point of view certainly does work in this novel.
Bohjalian is also extremely talented at escalating the plot to climax. I could feel the story moving faster and faster toward the ending and had to consciously slow down my reading so I didn’t miss anything.
While not my favorite Bohjalian novel, I enjoyed The Night Strangers and, perhaps because I’m a beginning writer, I especially loved the sheer craftsmanship of a story well told.