Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Fool, by Christopher Moore

All right, I really enjoyed this one. Moore is funny, but not consistently so, and some of his books stretch so far that they lose their traction. His recent works, however, are pretty good. A Dirty Job, in which a nebbish finds out he has become Death, and You Suck, his take on vampirism, mine a single vein of humor and contain some wonderful characters.

Fool is Moore's retelling of the story of King Lear, from the perspective of -- yes, you guessed it, Lear's Fool. The Fool is the only character who cares for Lear throughout the play, joining him as he rages on the heath in a thunderstorm and trying to keep him dry and sheltered. Moore's version of the Fool has his own agenda, and actually does a great deal to aggravate the deteriorating relations between Lear and his daughters.

Fool is set in a assemblage of vaguely 13th century England--there are still a lot of pagan practices, but also a definite Christianity, as well as English landmarks from the time. The historical Lear dates back to Roman England, but Moore doesn't want to go that far back, and so he ends up placing the characters in a kind of quasi-RenFair environment, but without the beer wenches.

Moore also deviates from both the Lear myth and the Shakespeare play in his ending. In the myth, Cordelia brings an army from France against her sisters, and restores Lear to the throne, where he rules for another 5 years. In Shakespeare, everybody dies. Mostly. Moore kind of splits the difference, while giving his Fool a happy ending.

The real strength of the book is the language. Sure, Moore can get away with quoting from the play whenever the action of the book coincides--but it takes real cojones to try to play Insult Smack Down with the Bard. And Moore doesn't fully succeed--I don't think Shakespeare ever repeated an insult, while Moore relies rather too heavily on a few words. You can probably guess most of them.

Yet there is something reckless and rushing about this book, and I believe that Moore now knows more about King Lear than anyone else alive today. I listened to this book, and enjoyed hearing the insults played out loud to my ear. I may get the book from the library, to better savor the language.

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