Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: "Fool" by Christopher Moore

I’ve often regretted that my introduction to Christopher Moore came through his 2002 novel "Lamb." I still consider it one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and his other books, while all enjoyable, just haven’t stacked up. His latest, "Fool" ($26.99, William Morrow), finally found that spark again.

It seems parodying great literary works may be Moore’s strong point, as this time he takes on Shakespeare’s "King Lear." We get a little background on Lear’s fool early on. Pocket is an orphan, raised by nuns, exiled from the church and saved from a cruel master by Lear after his act causes the king’s youngest daughter Cordelia to speak after years of silence.

As in Shakespeare’s play, Pocket becomes a beloved companion and a bit of a confidante to Lear, having the ability to point out folly and foolishness that would cost the life of any other person at the king’s court. Unlike Shakespeare, the fool of Moore’s book is the true mover and shaker behind the story. After Lear asks the fateful question of his daughters that sets things in motion, Pocket is the one working behind the scenes like an acid-tongued Machiavelli as the king wails and rages at the storm.

Moore plays fast and loose with Shakespeare, history and pretty much everything he touches in "Fool." The story draws influence and pulls quotes from a number of Shakespeare’s plays, and the witches from "Macbeth" are even invited over to play a key role as Moore’s version of the story unfolds.

There are, of course, dalliances, buffoonery and general silliness involved, as you’d expect from Moore. He warns at the opening of the book, "This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar, split infinitives and the odd wank." For the most part, he lives up to that, so, like "Lamb," "Fool" is not a tale for the easily offended.

It’s not an easy thing to turn one of the greatest tragedies ever written into a comedy. Moore succeeds in injecting plenty of humor — albeit usually very black humor — into the story, while still keeping some of its darker and grittier elements.

While most of Moore’s books have been entertaining, he really shines when he takes on the bigger stories. Sure to offend as many people as it entertains, "Fool," like "Lamb" before, stands head and shoulders (or at least coxcomb and bells) above his other works.

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