I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the last few of Christopher Moore’s novels that I’ve read. He has a new one either out or on the way very soon, which completes the “Vampire” trilogy begun in Bloodsucking Fiends and continued in You Suck; the third volume is called, appropriately enough, Bite Me.
In his last few books, Moore has started to get a bit too self-referential for my tastes, with characters from other books showing up in new ones. This makes sense in the case of a direct sequel like You Suck, but as much as I loved Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, I found the appearance of recurring Moore demon Catch in that book more distracting than anything.
No such problems exist in his last book (before Bite Me), Fool. This book was very welcome for me as a Moore fan: it stands pretty much all by itself in Moore’s output. And well it should, since it is a comedic retelling of King Lear.
Taking one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies (which is not unlike picking the best section of the Sistine Chapel) and mining it for comedy gold is a pretty cheeky thing to do, but for the most part, Moore is up to the task. What he’s done, wisely, is not to just do “Lear with jokes”, but to simply take the barest bones of Lear and just re-do the entire story. With jokes. Dirty jokes, mostly — but if you’re read Moore, you know that. Moore gives a helpful warning:
This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profantiy, as well as non-traditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank. If that sort of thing bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to offend. That said, if that’s the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!
Our hero is Pocket, the Fool in King Lear, who turns out in Moore’s story to be a much more conniving sort of gent than I recall Lear’s fool being in the play (although it’s been since college since I read Lear, so I may be wrong). Pocket looks on in horror as Lear asks his daughters to tell him how much they love him, and disowns honest Cordelia in favor of false Regan and Goneril, and finds himself adrift as allegiances shift back and forth and as war overtakes Britain, what with the throne up for grabs and “F***ing France” looking to take advantage.
How does it all play out? Well, it plays out in nicely surprising ways, as Moore has set aside much of Shakespeare’s own narrative in favor of one that is, well, funnier. This book made me laugh about as much as any good Moore book, which is to say, a lot; and I especially enjoyed that the book represents a stretch for Moore. He does things with language in this book that stand apart from things he’s done before (with Lamb possibly excepted), and there are passages that are sheer bawdy delight, such as this, between Pocket and Goneril:
“See, you are worldly and know of things. [This is Goneril speaking.] I need to see your willie.”
“Pardon? What? Why?” [Pocket]
“Because I’ve never seen one, and I don’t want to seem naive on my wedding night when the depraved brute ravishes me.”
“How do you know he’s a depraved brute?”
“Auntie told me. All men are. Now, out with your willie, fool.”
“Why my willie? There’s willies aplenty you can look at. What about Oswald? He may even have one, or knows where you can get hold of one, I’ll wager.” (Oswald was her footman then.)
“I know, but this is my first, and yours will be small and not so frightening. It’s like when I was learning to ride, and first father gave me a pony, but then, as I got older…”
“All right, then, shut up. Here.”
“Oh, would you look at that.”
“That’s it, then?”
“Nothing really to be afraid of then, was there? I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s rather pitiful if you ask me.”
“It is not.”
“Are they all this small?”
“Most are smaller, in fact.”
“May I touch it?”
“If you feel you must.”
“Well, would you look at that.”
“See, now you’re angered it.”
Moore also cheerfully mines all manner of other Shakespeare plays in the course of this book, so I suspect real Shakespeare lovers (as in, people who really know the plays, unlike people like me who claim a love of Shakespeare and yet somehow manage to not read him very often for some dumb reason like “I gotta read this SF novel instead”) will have fun picking the book apart for references.
For myself, I pretty much found Fool a delight from start to finish. Moore is still in fine, fine form.