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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fool by Christopher Moore

Title: Fool
Author: Christopher Moore
Reviewed Format: trade paperback
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Pages:  336

What can I say about Fool without going on about how funny and endearing Christopher Moore’s writing is?  His take on King Lear is almost as good as his take on the Bible (Lamb)--with, dare I say, even more toilet humor and dirty sex?  The jokes are non-stop, but so is the emotion.  How can it not when Moore is working with Shakespeare’s arguably most tragic play?

In the actual play, the Fool (unnamed)--if I remember right--acts as the voice of the play, commenting on what is happening through humor that’s both entertaining and useful.  He puts the characters actions into perspective (and keeps Lear in check), which is a great tool to orient readers who might get a little lost in all of the drama (oh boy, is there drama).  Where he is absent from the text Moore built a presence and filled the gaps to bring us Pocket and his bawdy commitments.  So how does Fool differ?  It’s a different perspective.  It still opens (more or less, Pocket need to have a flashier entrance) with Lear dividing his kingdom between two ungrateful daughters and one very honest one.  When Lear gets angry and disowns Cordelia (the honest one) he lashes out at his best friend Kent (who only wanted to defend her) and banishes him, too.  There’s some son-in-laws involved, a bastard, and in this case, a ghost (as Moore reminds us, “there’s always a fucking ghost.”).  This book even has a map with all sorts of helpful labels to explain all the “norths” and “souths” that people seem to be going to or coming from.  Unfortunately, there is no explanation for Lear’s downward spiral into madness.  I think that’s best left to speculation.

Don’t expect a line-by-line study of King Lear with some funny ha ha added in--you won’t get it.  What Moore does is write the story of Pocket (and his apprentice fool, Drool, who’s every bit as soggy as you’d imagine his name to imply) in and around Shakespeare’s play with as much dexterity, wit, and acrobatics as the Fool himself.  Also, did I mention the sex?

Pocket is given an important role in Fool.  He’s manipulative, methodical--when that doesn’t work, creative--and stealthy (when his coxcomb allows it) in his machinations.  Moore even threw in lots of random quotes from Shakespeare’s other plays to help shake up the drama (dogs of war, a few witches--you get the drift).  There are actual lines from King Lear in Fool and, if I was reading right, a lot of translations of lines that kept Shakespeare’s intention in Moore’s own words.  I liked that a lot, it solidifies Pocket’s story while reminding the reader where the inspiration came from.  It also brings Moore’s story back to the play just when Pocket’s antics have taken him on yet another tangent.

Pocket bounces between Lear’s daughters, sewing seeds of war, loyally defending his king, trying to rid the world of Edmund, and in the end discovers an unexpected surprise: the truth about his origins.  While Fool does give us an “insider” look at King Lear, it stands on its own two feet.  Pocket’s flashbacks to his time growing up in the abbey are funny, if a little vulgar, but entertain as much as explore his character.  It’s dependent on King Lear , but not at the expense of Pocket’s leading diversions and story.

Fool is surprisingly sweet.  I didn’t expect to feel so torn between Pocket and Lear, but sympathy for the latter comes from the former.  Lear doesn’t exactly endear himself by being himself--the angry, arrogant incarnation Moore unearths beneath the King’s aging person.  I was driven to sympathy because Pocket’s so earnest in his devotion and so caring, even when it’s clear his master is working against himself and making some crazy mistakes.  Moore has an interesting quality to his writing; it’s simultaneously delightful, silly, and poignant. I don’t know many authors who can accomplish all three in one paragraph, other than Moore.  If Fool doesn’t make you want to reread King Lear, you’ll have to let me know.  It may be helpful to be familiar with Shakespeare’s play before you begin Fool, but I don’t think it’s important.  Either way, if sexual metaphors bother you, you’d best stay away.  At times I did feel the toilet humor could have been toned down some; I found my eyes glazing over when Moore went too far (not in degree, but in length) or the gags started feeling repetitious, but most of the time I didn’t mind.  Even though this is only the second book by Moore I’ve read, I’ve been impressed and would love to read more.

How many Jawas recommend this book?


Anonymous said...

You know, I read this almost a year ago now. And it's just now we're reading King Lear in my Shakespeare class...and I can't stop thinking of Moore's "interpretation"!

Erika said...

@TJ: I don't think I'll be able to re-read the play without being reminded of Moore now! He has that effect.

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