Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead, the play that fills in the blanks of Hamlet with an existential romp of black humor, finds something of a spiritual cousin in Christopher Moore's Fool. Except downplay existential, sort of swap black humor for "good natured look at the pain of life", and add a big and huge helping of sexual jokes, masturbation jokes, breast jokes, and foul language and there you go. The Fool is THAT Fool, the one who tells King Lear that his hound hath no nose. One of my personal favorite characters in Shakespeare and even in fiction because it is an early use of the ironic character. The noble makes poor choices and is betrayed. The fool speaks truth and stands loyal.
Moore halves the novel between a continued excuse to say things like "fuckstockings" while talking about semen; and in filling in some of the backstory. The backstory is very alternate universe, though, so can only elaborate on the world of King Lear by changing it. It gives something of a purpose to the loyal fool outside of "it is in the script" and it paints a more three-dimensional picture of the king, as well. In fact, most characters get an expanded in Moore's novel, but not evenly. The two older sisters have fetishes added to their character and little else. A couple of characters have a sexual orientation swap, but show up no more in the novel than in the play. Cordelia, the tragic focus on the play, is given a little bit more of a place to stand with her refusal to acknowledge her dad. What's perhaps most disappointing is that Moore gives the fool, named Pocket, mostly large helpings of horniness and a distaste for overblown, well, fools; while taking a few of the other characters and making them more well-rounded, and possibly more deserving of their fate.
Speaking of fates, how does it turn out? Does Moore repeat Lamb by following a well known story to its end? Does he embark on a new solution to the plot? I will leave that up to you find out. It is one of the driving forces behind the reading of the book to find out if these newly fleshed out characters and their world are limited to the same conclusions or are able to look beyond them to their own solutions. If the suspense is killing you, flip to the back of the book because with a few story line changes, Moore leaves the questions up in the air until fairly near the close.
One thing probably missing the most from the novel is the lack of meta-drama that Stoppard brought with his Hamlet send up. Moore is not the kind of writer that handles "meta-" very well, but Fool is a novel that almost needs it. King Lear makes a rash decision that leads to his downfall. In some ways, for it to be one of Shakespeare's most powerful, it's a cheap cop. Fool could have somehow played with that. Not that he did not play with it, he just mostly played with it in a way that entailed expanding upon what medival life would have really been like. Entertaining, yes, but not quite as classic as it could have been.
I am a Christopher Moore junky, so let me just say that this book is different enough, in the way that Lamb is different, that I think it will polarize long time fans between those who say it is best yet and those who hold that he has lost his way. It is also vulgar and oversexed enough to put some people off. This is not to say that it is a guilty pleasure but this is to say that you had best like your humor rated R or it will be a long way down the rabbit hole for you. It also has a different pace than a lot of his works, especially his slacker-as-hero stuff that can be read in an afternoon. This one takes a bit to mull over. Also, while I will not say this book is homophobic, I will say that I would understand if someone felt that it was leanign that way. A few of its jokes come off unevenly meanspirited towards gays, even if it kind of fits the Pocket character.
Final Rate: Good. Pacing a just a tad more literary flesh would have probably mad this book a fun and dirty classic.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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