Book review: ‘Fool’
Vail CO, Colorado
If you are offended by swearing, fighting, flatulence, fornication, or a sometimes gross butchery of the English language, this book is not for you. If you’re choosing this as a Cliff’s Notes version of “King Lear,” be warned, this may be far more enjoyable a read than your high school teacher intended, but not only will you have some serious plot diversions in your essay, you may also get yourself an expulsion for graphic medieval pornography.
Expulsions not withstanding, it’s safe to say that Christopher Moore has done it again. His clever new novel, “Fool,” is everything we’ve come to expect from the king of irreverence. An extremely loose re-telling of one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies, the raucous and raunchy fool of King Lear’s court tries to stop the kingdom from complete implosion at the hands of the senile ruler’s family.
This eminently bawdy tale follows the king’s fool, Pocket (so named for his small stature), across the kingdom and through a dozen or more of Shakespeare’s plays with his dimwitted assistant, Drool, in tow.
Pocket struggles against Lear’s scheming daughters and their sometimes ruthless husbands, all the while pestered by his sidekick’s debacles, several hapless souls and, since no Shakespeare play could be complete without it, a ghost who’s resplendent in her cryptic prophesies.
As these sometimes bumbling characters attempt to salvage the kingdom, they also start to uncover the twists and turns of their own shocking heritages.
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The multitude of eccentrics moving on and off of this stage can make for a confusing melee of lurid debauchery at times, but just the anticipation of what could happen next keeps this story flowing.
Despite the whole book being liberally peppered with shameless fornication and raunchy jokes, there are some inspired moments to be had. The opening scene in which Lear requires his daughters to declare their love for him contains some clever diversions.
An encounter with the three witches around their cauldron in the woods weaves its own special magic and a ghost spewing mystifying rhymes pushes the plot in some unexpected directions.
Moore takes liberties with not only Shakespeare, but with geography and time, too. Though the year is meant to be 1288, there is a battle between Christianity and paganism that more likely took place between 500 and 800 A.D., and there are subtle references to us, the “Mericans,” a long extinct race in a sort of “long ago in a galaxy far, far away” spirit.
Moore’s geographical flights of fancy include places such as London’s Albany being set in Scotland to make a sortie into Macbeth’s Great Birnam Wood convenient. Moore sets a stage where anything and everything is possible, and probable. You have to be willing to take it all at face value and just go along for the ride. Accept and feel a certain satisfaction knowing such things like Carpe Diem can be translated as Fish of the Day.
Moore takes a classically tragic tale and makes it not only funny, but not so tragic after all. The fool does not disappear and the daughters do not perish in the third act storm. In fact, Pocket and Cordelia survive because, of course, the fool is in love with her. Who could have foreseen such a twist of literature?
In the annals of bawdy tales, “Fool” is laugh-out-loud, I-can’t-believe-he-just-wrote-that fun.
Anuschka Bales works at The Bookworm of Edwards.