Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review of Fool by Christopher Moore (2009, Sphere)

Thirteenth century Britain.  Having been bought up by nuns and been a member of a travelling troupe, Pocket was taken in by King Lear to amuse his youngest daughter, Cordelia.  For years he has been the court jester, the Black Fool, who talks truth to power with rapier wit, often receiving death threats in return.  Lear’s daughters are now young women and when Lear tests their love for him, Goneril and Regan lie to gain favour, each receiving half the nation, while Cordelia tells the truth and is banished to France.  Haunted by a ghost that talks in rhymes it is left to Pocket to try and restore family harmony and to put a halt to the ambitions of the scheming older sisters, each of whom sees an opportunity to claim the crown for themselves.  That’s no easy task given the shifting alliances and skulduggery at play, but Pocket is one heck of a schemer himself, assuming he can stay alive and keep his libido in check.

In Fool, Christopher Moore reworks King Lear, weaving in a bunch of other references of Shakespeare’s players, to create a kind of ‘Carry-on’ version that is a bawdy, sweary, tragic comedy that involves a lot of well-endowed codpieces and heaving chests, back-stabbing, scheming, and characters dropping like flies.  There is, of course, also a convoluted plot, full of twists and turns, intriguing reveals and betrayals, as each character seeks to gain the upper-hand.  At the centre of the tale is Pocket, the Black Fool, a man with a lustful eye and a sharp tongue who is trying to pull strings of King Lear’s elder daughters, Goneril and Regan, their husbands, and the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons, in order to ensure that Lear’s reign is not cut short and his youngest daughter, Cordelia, inherits her rightful share of his estate.  Pocket is aided by Drool, his dim-witted, sex-mad sidekick, a rhyming ghost, three witches, and the Earl of Kent, a knight of King Lear’s inner-circle.  In theory, I should have delighted in the tale and its telling – the plot is clever and well constructed, the characters are well penned, and many of the scenes are humorous – and yet it didn’t quite click for me for much of the book.  I’m not really sure why.  I think in trying to pay homage to Shakespeare in his own unique way the tale felt like an over-produced parody where the bawdiness is a little forced at times.  Nonetheless Fool is an interesting, entertaining tale with some laugh-out-loud lines.

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