I wasn’t expecting much from Fool, the newest novel from Christopher Moore. My previous encounter with Moore (the mind-numbingly awful Fluke) made me want to pound my head into the nearest hard surface — anything to remove the memory of that wretched story from my brain. Later, I was informed that Fluke was not the best introduction to Moore; instead, I should have read Lamb or You Suck. Whatever. I was already pissed.
Still, it’s difficult to ignore the legion of Moore fans who constantly sing his praises, claiming he’s just so funny, so entertaining. I found nothing even remotely amusing about Fluke. But when I heard his newest novel was a take on Shakespeare’s King Lear, I knew I had to give him another go. Perhaps Fluke was a fluke. (See what I did there? It’s funny, right? No? Not even a little? Now you know what Fluke is like.)
For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want to do myself bodily harm. In fact, I even found numerous scenes quite funny, even if I didn’t actually laugh out loud. Fool elicited the occasional inner snicker, we’ll say.
If you aren’t familiar with King Lear, here’s a brief recap: Lear is old. In order to die unburdened, he proposes to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. But first, a test. Tell me how much you love me, he commands. Goneril and Regan, his first two daughters — sneaky bitches, we can tell immediately — kiss his ass and tell him what he wants to hear. However, Cordelia, his youngest daughter, will have none of it and refuses to play along. Lear, blind as he is, gives the first two daughters everything and banishes the youngest. Unfortunately, greed begets greed, and it isn’t long before Goneril and Regan begin to want the other’s share. Fighting ensues. And death, obviously, since it’s a tragedy.
The Fool himself, although lacking a major role in the play’s action, is nevertheless an integral character. The Fool’s role was an important one at court, a place where one could hardly speak the truth for fear of punishment. While most lackeys blindly agreed with the person who boasted the most power, the Fool could speak his mind without fear of punishment, since whatever he said was considered a joke and unworthy of serious consideration. Lear’s Fool is no different, and often calls the old king a fool for the way he has treated Cordelia and other worthy characters.
In Moore’s version, the Fool (named Pocket) takes center stage and narrates the action of the play from his own unique perspective. Instead of being a powerless pawn, Moore’s Fool actually masterminds much of the play’s action. Pocket and his dim-witted sidekick, Drool, shag many maidens, plot devious escapades, and generally commit heinous fuckery most foul. Along the way, Pocket discovers some important truths about himself. While Moore’s take on King Lear was humorous and fun, I far preferred the depth and background he added to characters who aren’t fully developed in the play.
Which, of course, brings us to an important question: Is it necessary to be familiar with the source material before reading Fool? It’s not absolutely necessary, of course, but I doubt I’d have found much humor (or depth, what there was of it) in Fool without being familiar with the original. If you’re not familiar with the play, take heart: Moore deviates significantly from it anyway (at least, I don’t remember a lusty ghost, or a lusty laundress, or a lusty princess, but I have been known to skim).
In all, I enjoyed Fool, even if I don’t plan to read Moore again any time soon. Fool is a bawdy, rowdy novel that doesn’t treat Shakespeare (or anything, for that matter) too seriously. While not every joke works (some fall painfully flat), it’s a fun read so long as you aren’t expecting too much from it.
Jennifer McKeown reads way too much and blogs about her experiences over at Bibliolatry.