King Lear. Considered one of William Shakespeare's
crowning achievements. A tragedy that examines the nature of
familial relations and human suffering. Murder, intrigue,
disinherited daughter, selfish other daughters, betrayals, war,
suicide. Hardly comic relief.
Until Christopher Moore gets his mitts on it, that is.
With the release of FOOL, Moore picks up his copy of King
Lear, dusts it off, opens it up, and smacks it around and gets
its attention. He then proceeds to take the play and, while keeping
its core, turn it on its ear in the distinctly humorous way that
only he has been able to do.
Pocket, the fool in question, is, of course, Lear's fool. In
this stylized retelling of the play, Pocket is the character
through whom we will experience all of the aforementioned anguish,
but this time it is dripping in hilarity. One would expect such a
thing when the story is told from the view of a fool. But do not be
fooled into believing that such souls are not necessary, for Pocket
is more than a joke machine serving at the feet of a dottering old
king. He is wickedly entertaining, true, but even more so, he is
wickedly devious and brilliant, weaving his way through the story
to effect changes and secure a positive outcome.
As I'm sure everyone knows, nothing ever goes as
planned, and his little ploys and machinations become multiplied
tenfold as he tries to shore it all up, assisted by myriad bumblers
and buffoons along the way.
Moore presents FOOL in an easy style, making it a quick read.
Gone is the plodding work needed to get through Shakespeare. Here,
you open up and begin laughing at Pocket's wit, at times even
finding yourself shocked at his lecherous mindset, and you will
also meet/recognize characters and references to other Shakespeare
plays (the three Macbeth witches, anyone?).
As always, Moore does a fantastic job of working his comic
genius, letting the novel drift toward slapstick before reigning it
all back in with intelligent satire. He makes use of Shakespearian
verbiage, archaic slang and other Old English vocabulary foibles.
Then he explains them all with laughable footnotes that, oddly, do
not at all distract from the main tale.
Ultimately, one could call FOOL irreverent. That would be a
mistake. Anyone who undertakes to dip into it will be able to very
quickly and clearly see the real admiration Moore has for the
Shakespearian source material. This is certainly no mockery,
however foolish and bawdy it unfolds, but rather a work so well
crafted that it serves to infuse that old source with a new
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 22, 2011