Review: Fool by Christopher Moore

Review written by Jess Peacock

First things first: I am a major fan of Christopher Moore. If geekgasms are real, then Moore knows my G-spot, pounds away relentlessly, and even has the courtesy to cuddle in the afterglow. I never miss an opportunity to push his quirky, smart, scary, laugh-out-loud brand of storytelling to unwitting fellow lit lovers. It all started with Practical Demonkeeping and simply snowballed into a passion for every word the self-proclaimed “authorguy” wrote. Quite simply, Christopher Moore is my Kurt Vonnegut.

Oh, and did I mention I hate his new novel, “Fool”?

I want Moore’s new book to be completely wiped from my mind, eliminated from the pantheon of his modern classics such as “Lamb” and “A Dirty Job.” I want to see something better in its place, even if it is nothing more than a quickie sequel to “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove.” Anything but the molasses-like quagmire I painfully trudged through in the author’s recent attempt at putting a humorous spin on Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”

Oh, Christopher, what hath thou wrought.

Continuing the tradition of retelling Shakespeare’s works from different perspectives, Moore’s eleventh novel joins Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” and James Thurber’s “The Macbeth Murder Mystery” in placing a different slant on the famous playwright. As mentioned, “Fool” retells the story of King Lear through the eyes of Pocket, the King’s Fool. In a recent interview I conducted with Moore, he explained that, in an effort to lend a modern sense of humor to the classic tale, “[Pocket] speaks in a hybrid dialect that I invented that’s a mix of Elizabethan English, modern Britcom slang, and complete balderdash. It had to be comprehensible to my American audience, but seem authentic to the period.”

Balderdash, indeed. Moore’s admitted boiling stew of competing slangs, eras, and made-up words congealed into a mess of tiresome reading. I often found myself backtracking through paragraphs in an attempt to make some sense of what I had just read. Compounding the problem were regular footnotes explaining obscure cultural terms that, while often humorous, served no purpose to the flow of storytelling.

Moore, in our interview, stated, "Because I write comedy, I sort of see the Fool as being an archetype for my profession. Especially the ability of the Fool to speak truth to power. I've written about tricksters throughout my career, so I wanted to write a book about someone who, more or less, has the job of being a trickster." Appropriately, tricks are aplenty in “Fool” as Moore takes the details of “King Lear” (an aging King, ungrateful siblings, etc.), and tosses us down an alternate rabbit hole where Pocket pokes, prods, cajoles, and deceives the various players into murder and war for the most noble of reasons: love and loyalty.

Along the way we are treated to quirky takes on Shakespearian staples (“There’s always a bloody ghost”), an overabundance of sex and masturbatory adventures, and Moore’s signature satiric observations on contemporary politics and religion. These disparate elements, when tossed together, create an atmosphere of Benny Hill gone awry. Unfortunately, it all falls flat.

I will admit that Shakespeare has never, and will never, be in my wheelhouse of literary fascinations, and my familiarity with the bard’s writings fails to extend past what I needed to pass Introduction To Shakespearian Literature in college. Nevertheless, Moore fails at creating an original piece that stands alone, assuming, rather, that the reader would be as familiar with “King Lear” as he undoubtedly had become while researching this latest book. Ultimately, one becomes lost in the various plots and machinations perpetuated by Pocket, Goneril, Regan, Edgar, and Oswald, causing any interest in the ultimate goal of our hero to rapidly dissipate.

Moore’s attempt at transforming such dark material into a comedy/adventure/romance/fairy-tale is undoubtedly ambitious, and will most certainly find willing admirers among Shakespeare lovers in much the same way “Lamb” surprisingly found support among Christians. However, at the end of the day, with the obvious parallels between Westley/Buttercup and Pocket/Cordelia, one would just be better off reading William Goldman’s vastly superior “The Princess Bride” and calling it a night.