The Primary Colors: Three Essays

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9780805031058: The Primary Colors: Three Essays

Three interrelated essays, each devoted to a primary color, explore the mysterious full artistic, linguistic, botanical, cinematic, aesthetic, literary, religious, and emotional dimensions of blue, red, and yellow. 25,000 first printing.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

What a luminous idea, to devote a trio of poetic essays to the three primary colors. Too bad that Theroux, author of the overstuffed intellectual novels Darconville's Cat (1981) and An Adultery (1987), opts to dazzle with pedantry rather than to patiently set out the distinctions and contrasts that make for true illumination. Each essay is a monologue on one color, rambling associatively across not only art history, literature, history, and popular culture, but also through natural history, chemistry, and metaphysics. To convey more information about the cultural significance of blue, of yellow, and of red would seem humanly impossible. One person might particularly enjoy Theroux's occasional discussions of the derivation of paint pigments; another might be taken with his accounts of the colors of foods, or with the roles of a color in religious rituals. Yet while Theroux's interests are encyclopedic in scope, his essays suffer correspondingly from their lack of any internal organization whatsoever. He clearly aspires to compose prose poems, and he succeeds on the largest possible level: Each essay's color and color word suffuse it so thoroughly as to create an almost hypnotic visual effect. But the gimmick wears thin, and the portentous tone that comes with running together erudite facts all higgledy- piggledy becomes annoying. The book as a whole finally sinks to the level of the commonplaces that, in the absence of any index or plan, anchor its purpler passages. For all the Proustian extravagance of Theroux's paean to yellow gems, or the effective minimalism of his survey of blue in painting, what stands out are transitional remarks like ``the color blue figures powerfully in art,'' ``love is red,'' or (in reference to yellow), ``warnings attract attention, and must.'' If Theroux had not left these essays so self-indulgently unstructured, he might have produced a small classic. As it stands, the reader must stumble over random truisms- -not to mention wading through too much overwriting--to find the occasional nugget of gold. They may seem brilliant at a distance and will fascinate in some of their details. But from the still-crucial perspective of readability, Theroux's primary colors seem, sadly, a muddle. (Quality Paperback Book Club selection) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Entrancing, challenging, maddening, and finally unsatisfying, Theroux's three essays take the primary colors and look at them from every angle, including cultural, historical, psychological, and linguistic. Thus, his evocation of blue moves from melancholy, movies, and Roman royalty to raw meat, thin milk, and hardened steel, to the whelks of Phoenicia and the "blue-black sky in Vincent van Gogh's 1980 Crows Flying over a Cornfield." And that's just a meager sampling of the first three pages. The result is a fascinating laundry list of the way blue, yellow, and red manifest themselves in daily life, but readers will soon wonder what it all means. Are we to conclude from melancholy, meat, and Van Gogh's sky that blue should always put us in a raw mood? Then how do we acknowledge that in Tibetan Buddhism wisdom is associated with blue? Not to mention Mary's robes and baby boys. Theroux gives a cursory overview of the development of pigment in art, but it is too scattershot to satisfy curious art students. The aim here is wondrously ambitious, but Theroux doesn't quite pull it off.
Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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