Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!Fool: A Novel
By Chrisopher Moore
For a long time, I've been fascinated by fools. And by "fools," I mean jesters and not individuals who do stupid stuff. Those people are fascinating in their own way, but that's a topic for another time. Anyway, back to Fools. Fools are professional mockers, tricksters, magicians, acrobats. The root of the word "fool" is from the Latin follis, which means "bag of wind" or that which contains air or breath...windbags, essentially (GAH! Word etymology is so cool!). Fools were given license to poke fun at kings and other important-type people, and had more freedom to speak critically of their masters than pretty much anyone else at court. I've read several books that feature fools and jesters, and they always end up being my favorite characters. Outwardly, the have no power or title, but they know things, and can act as catalyst for kingdom-changing events. Fools always seem to have a certain fearlessness to them, which, combined with their whimsical nature and penchant for keeping (and sharing) secrets, makes them fascinating characters to read.
A few years ago, Christopher Moore wrote a book called Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, which is about Jesus (or Josh, if you've read the book). I read this book and loved it, so when I found out that he had a book about a fool, I fell upon it voraciously. Only after I bought the book did I realize that it was actually a re-telling of Shakespeare's King Lear, told from the point of view of Lear's Black Fool (in the book, his name is Pocket... which is a very good name). YESSSS!!! I was doing my good-book-happy dance, which isn't really a dance but rather a pleasing brain-humming-type feeling. Whatever that means.
If you've read King Lear, you know the basic storyline: King Lear is old and tired of being in charge, so he decides he wants to split the kingdom between his three daughters and spend the rest of his days rotating between them and being an imposing houseguest. He determines the division of his kingdom by playing "Who Loves Daddy Best?", and as you might imagine, things pretty much go downhill from there and everyone dies at the end. Moore takes the story, twists it around, slaps it on the ass, adds witches (eh, why not?) and a general dislike of the French, and suddenly it becomes a comedy. A hysterical, filthy, comedy where almost everyone dies but is still a happy ending. Pocket the Fool is a likeable scoundrel, who will shag anything that moves (including Lears daughters) and does not spare the lash of his tongue for anyone. Thus, he spends the majority of the book in imminent danger of being lynched. What's not to love? Also, Pocket has taught me my new favorite curse-word: "F*ckstockings." It's so fun to say and is appropriate for almost any occasion.
This book is fun to read. Moore's writing is so funny and Pocket is such a bastard that it's really hard not to like it. As far as its literary value goes, though, I'm not sure if I would label that as a "good book." The parts of the book that are not lifted directly from Shakespeare's play- those get a little convoluded. It seemed to me that sometimes the humor got in the way of the story, and that if Moore had just backed off the gags a bit and just wrote, things might have been a bit more clear. It's not that the plot was hard to understand, but Pocket's narrative is so snarky that sometimes I didn't notice when the actual important stuff was going on. A minor gripe, really, considering the violations that Moore thrusts upon the original text as a whole.
I've been debating on whether or not it's necessary for you to have read King Lear before you start on Fool. It's useful to know the story, of course, so you can understand the more subtle humor that's worked in to the re-telling, but I know that there are some purists out there who cannot stand by while the Bard's Cannon is defiled by anyone for any reason. These are the same people who don't like cover songs and whined when Peter Jackson cut Tom Bombadil out of The Lord of the Rings. If you are one of these people (you all know who you are)... well, if you are one of these people you've probably already read this book and posted your own scathing review on some other website. I, for one, enjoy a good satire and like knowing the original work before I go laughing at parodies. I actually like being able to see where changes and manupulations have been made. Reading Moore's afterward, he says that it's probably better if you haven't read Lear, to spare yourself the heartache. Either way, you're in for a good time.
Also, this book is DIRTY. Sex, cursing, mushroom sniffing (really!), it's all here. In fact, the book comes with this this disclaimer: "This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank ... If that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!" I couldn't put it better myself. If that doesn't seem like your cup of tea, then I'd probably recommend that you steer clear of this one. Or not. Maybe now is the time to de-sensitize yourself. Start with "f*ckstockings" and take it from there.
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Snake Agent by Liz Williams
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