If you’ve written a novel called Island of the Sequined Love Nun, people ought to know what to expect from you.
Where Christopher Moore conjured a sendup of Hamlet in part of that book, he lays into Shakespeare full force with Fool, which is King Lear as seen through none other than the play’s jester.
Pocket, who is named for his diminutive size, is a juggler/acrobat/joke-teller/knife-thrower/yarn-spinner extraordinaire who wears his motley proudly in Lear’s court. This also helps him shag just about everybody, including the king’s vicious daughters, Regan and Goneril.
But Pocket is really Cordelia’s fool, and this daughter he genuinely loves is disowned by her father and married off to Prince Jeff of France. If that weren’t bad enough, the bastard Edmund, who can’t take a good ribbing, seizes Pocket’s apprentice fool and holds the big dimwit hostage at Castle Gloucester. Bollocks!
Looking for a way to get his friends back, Pocket seeks a coven of witches in Birnum Wood (who are apparently making a cameo). They tell him the remedy is a civil war that will erase the power structure of Britain, all by a fool’s doing, should he follow the witches’ instructions.
Fool isn’t just a jolly homage to Shakespeare but also to modern British humor (humour?). Its spirit is cranked to such exaggerated Englishness that it makes Monty Python look like The Three Stooges. I’ll tell you, to watch an Ohio-born writer put on Britface and tell a story of tossers, wankers, and ponces is perhaps the principal joy of this book.
“There’s Always a Bloody Ghost”
Through Pocket, Moore gets to air his complaints about the other characters, like how Lear becomes such an insufferable old whiner. He refuses to put a leash on his hero, so Pocket can chime in so often that his interruptions in the dialogue begin to annoy. That comes from the fool’s self-admitted character flaw of never filtering his comments, so it’s really part of Pocket’s charm.
He gets especially long-winded whenever the ghost shows up, and of course, what would a tragedy be without one? That cryptically rhymes, no less? Eventually the specter begins to talk normally (relative to the rest of the book) and even gets a good bonking.
I would have liked to have seen the ghost, or some other character, remain unflinchingly Shakespearean. Even Lear himself breaks character to say, “It’s really fucking cold out here.” The presence of an “authentic” character would have been a comic reminder of how far gone this retelling is, and I think it’s a missed opportunity.
Familiarity with the original play isn’t necessary to enjoy the book but might enhance some of the humor. It makes it all the better to see Kent repeatedly insist, “I am not a poofter.”
Moore and Shakespeare, as it turns out, are a surprisingly compatible. He celebrates the latter’s proclivity for inventing words (I especially enjoyed “fuckery” and “shagnatiousness” and look forward to using them soon), and he also says to hell with historical correctness, which is how you get Lear as it might have been written by Eddie Izzard.
And sex jokes abound, my friends, sex jokes abound.
Is It Funny?
Yes — when Moore isn’t pounding a joke to such a fine powder that it blows right off the page (I’m looking at you, “perfect fucking French”). There are certainly stretches where he favors quantity over quality.
But there are several moments of have-to-set-the-book-down-to-finish-laughing throughout.
Still, it’s not for everybody. Some people might find Moore’s exuberance irresistible, while others will tire of his overindulgence. I probably bounced between these two poles throughout, depending on whether I was engaged in the plot at a given time.
The plot itself, which deals mostly with Pocket’s string-pulling for civil war, is appropriately convoluted. At times, though, I scratched my head at the fool’s okayness with his plan possibly killing Lear, and even more so with loyalist Kent’s not being bothered by the likely regicide.
I haven’t read other Moore to rank this one among his novels, but I’m told by a colleague that this isn’t his best. One might find Coyote Blue or A Dirty Job to be superior outings. It’s a decent diversion, though; I’m happy to take a break from tragedies with a book that bends a tragedy over and boffs it right through the bunghole.