by Christopher Moore
Hi everybody, I'm Dan. Suzi asked me to guest-blog for her while she's off taking care of whatever it is she's taking care of. She didn't really get specific about what that was, but she might have let slip something about having to mop up some deep-cover operation that went balls up somewhere in central Asia. 'Fate of the world at stake,' or something. Yeah. Bet you didn't know that your humble book-blogger was actually an international woman of mystery, or that 'Fashion Piranha' is actually her CIA codename, did you?
What? It could happen.
Aaaaanyway, here in Denver, where I'm writing this from, we have this extremely badass little independent bookstore called The Tattered Cover (two of them, actually). It's one of those increasingly rare bookstores that goes out of its way to constantly bring in authors for speaking engagements, shelve autographed books, and host all kinds of fun literary events. And while our Fashion Piranha was out battling evil in the name of Truth, Justice, and Quality Prose, I was there watching (read: standing on tippy-toes, craning my neck to peek through the door of the overflow room) Christopher Moore talk about his newest book: Fool.
Fool has a couple things going for it right off the bat: The first is that it's written by Christopher Moore. I know that sounds like a horribly fanboy thing to say, but the cool thing about Moore's novels is that, despite writing comedy and satire almost exclusively, he does a ridiculous amount of research on his subject matter. And when an author spends several years doing research for a freaking satire, it's probably a pretty good bet that you won't walk away from the end product feeling cheated. There is a whole long list of best-selling authors who would do well to follow Moore's example on that front. And for this particular novel, I believe he spent about two years doing the research and legwork to bring Fool
together. The second thing is that it's Shakespeare. Traditionally, the old saying about sex and pizza applies just as readily to Shakespeare as it does to sex and pizza—namely that, even if the players totally slaughter it, it's still Shakespeare, and that's something in-and-of itself.
Shakespeare, what? Yeah, it's Shakespeare (erm, mostly). It's King Lear, transformed from tragedy to comedy, and rewritten from the perspective of Lear's fool, Pocket. Owing to some astoundingly bad judgment on the part Lear regarding the character of his daughters, Pocket—along with an excellent cast of rogues and misfits—finds himself forced to become the architect of devious plots, civil war, and all manner of “heinous fuckery” (to quote one of Fool's more lovable characters) to set things right again.
At this point one might be thinking: “Oh my god, King Lear!? He totally butchered it, right?” Oh yeah, he totally butchered it, but not the sort of butchering that results in a squidgy pile of bloody gooey mess. No, Moore's Fool is the kind of butchering that ends up as prime rib, T-bone steaks, and fillet mignon. I was consistently impressed all through the book at how well Moore kept to the spirit of the original play, considering how much ink was spilled addressing all the “heinous fuckery” Shakespeare never thought to include in his own version. But then, we are, after all, talking about the author who managed to pull off the comic life of Christ, keeping what is known about the subject historically accurate (with the exception of some of the bits about Buddhism), and without stooping to either open blasphemy or any major heresies.
Some of you might be thinking: “But I don't know anything about Shakespeare, and that Leonardo DeCaprio movie made my brain hurt. I'm totally not going to get this at all, am I?” Fear not. This novel was written with you in mind (or so said the author, when the subject came up at his book signing). Fool stands perfectly well all on its own, and you really don't need to know the first thing about Shakespeare to love the poop out of this book. It does have a fair amount of split infinitives though.
That said, others among you must be thinking: “So this is just one big toss to the groundlings? I've studied Shakespeare my whole life! I've even read the freaking sonnets! I'm going to hate this, aren't I?” Maybe, if you're die-hard purist with absolutely no sense of humor. Thankfully Moore also wrote Fool with fans of the Bard in mind too. Aside from keeping the spirit of the play intact, there are more Shakespearean in-jokes and hidden nuances than you can shake a padded codpiece at. There are also a few cameo appearances of the Witches from [That Scottish Play], a talking raven, a monkey called Jeff, a ghost (there's always a bloody ghost), and quite a lot to say on the subject of bastards and bastardry.
A few things you should be aware of if you're planning on reading this book: Christopher Moore described this novel as being “very horny.” I think that's a very accurate assessment. Also, “heinous fuckery” is in no way an exaggeration of what goes on between the covers of Fool. If you're not a fan of sex or violence, you may want to sit this one out. But then, if that's the case, you may want to skip Shakespeare altogether (I mean, have you read Titus Andronicus!? That play is all kinds of effed up!). And if you're offended by foul language, you are definitely going to want to skip this one. I'm not even joking. Just put the book down and back away slowly; don't make any sudden movements, it can smell fear. I mean, I thought I had some kind of mouth on me, and even I walked away with a few new curse words from this one.
You may want also want to keep in mind is that it's extremely hard to read a book which is constantly shaking because you can't stop laughing. You may need to rig up some kind of book-stabilizing contraption.
All in all, I thought Fool was fantastic. It's smutty, it's juvenile, it's crass, and it's completely hysterical. While there is some creative bending of history and geography going on (all of which is explained in the Author's Note, helpfully appended to the end of the novel), a lot of Moore's additions to King Lear are actually downright insightful. If it's been a while since you've read the original play, you might even mistake a few of Moore's inventions for part of the original King Lear. The whole thing is really well put together. Christopher Moore always manages to surprise me with how much care he takes with the small details, and the whole time I was reading it I kept getting the urge to track down my Shakespeare teacher from high school and give her a copy, because I know she'd absolutely adore it. And if you're the sort of person who is perfectly comfortable with some naughty sex, a little violence, and a whole buttload of cussing, you'll probably adore it too.
Quick note from Suzi: Psst - isn't Dan awesome? Run over to saru_kage and tell him so! I should have him do this all the time...oops, gotta run.