Thursday, August 28, 2014

(Audio)book review: Fool by Christopher Moore


Written by: Christopher Moore

Published: 2009

Audiobook read by: Euan Morton

Synopsis: A man of infinite jest, Pocket has been Lear's cherished fool for years, from the time the king's grown daughters—selfish, scheming Goneril, sadistic (but erotic-fantasy-grade-hot) Regan, and sweet, loyal Cordelia—were mere girls. So naturally Pocket is at his brainless, elderly liege's side when Lear—at the insidious urging of Edmund, the bastard (in every way imaginable) son of the Earl of Gloucester—demands that his kids swear their undying love and devotion before a collection of assembled guests. Of course Goneril and Regan are only too happy to brownnose Dad. But Cordelia believes that her father's request is kind of . . . well . . . stupid, and her blunt honesty ends up costing her her rightful share of the kingdom and earns her a banishment to boot.

Well, now the bangers and mash have really hit the fan. The whole damn country's about to go to hell in a handbasket because of a stubborn old fart's wounded pride. And the only person who can possibly make things right . . . is Pocket, a small and slight clown with a biting sense of humor. He's already managed to sidestep catastrophe (and the vengeful blades of many an offended nobleman) on numerous occasions, using his razor-sharp mind, rapier wit . . . and the equally well-honed daggers he keeps conveniently hidden behind his back. Now he's going to have to do some very fancy maneuvering—cast some spells, incite a few assassinations, start a war or two (the usual stuff)—to get Cordelia back into Daddy Lear's good graces, to derail the fiendish power plays of Cordelia's twisted sisters, to rescue his gigantic, gigantically dim, and always randy friend and apprentice fool, Drool, from repeated beatings . . . and to shag every lusciously shaggable wench who's amenable to shagging along the way.

“...Heinous Fuckery, most foul!”

The minute I finished reading Lamb I wanted to read more of Christopher Moore but I am reading books so slowly at the moment, that it felt unfair to all the other authors crowding my shelves and remaining unread. So I jumped onto Audible and had a look at which of his books were audiobooks and surprisingly there were only two, Fool and The Serpent of Venice. And since The Serpent of Venice is a sequel to Fool, the choice was rather obvious.

Fool is Moore's interpretation of Shakespeare's famous tragedy King Lear* from the perspective of Lear's fool, Pocket**. It's not a faithful interpretation, at least not in the strictest sense, it borrows from other plays and mixes up some of the history but Moore channels the Bard where it really matters, i.e. foul language and sex.
"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!"
It is HELLA bawdy guys. Lots of T&A, dirty puns and crude innuendo, and since the language is much more updated than your traditional Shakespearian play you tend to actually notice exactly how filthy it is. There's a lot less "wait, was that meant to be dirty?" "why does Hamlet want to still his head in Ophelia's lap? Am I reading too much into this? (no)" and a lot more cackling at Pocket's nastiness. Because I was listening to an audiobook I didn't note down any of the truly hilarious dirty bits and Goodreads has completely let me down (for shame readers, where are your priorities?) but trust me, dirty.

So the book obviously has that going for it but you don't need to be a borderline pervert to find enjoyment in the story. It's got a lot of the other good Shakespearian elements, subterfuge, witches and demanding ghosts and really fantastic language. It's no Shakespeare obviously, but Moore does a brilliant job in creating a book that bursts off the page with its colourful*** language. The audio reader, Euan Morton, was one of the best I've come across so far. I looked him up and he's a stage performer which makes complete sense. He has absolute control over the writing, drawing sentences out or hitting the enunciation on certain words to really emphasise the writing. There was a particular repeat  line that just hit me every time, when Pocket would say "Moi?", said I, in perfect fucking French", and it shouldn't be that funny but Morton's line read is so brilliant that I would be caught by surprise and laugh out loud every single time. I love to read Shakespeare, but it really is so much better when it's performed. I felt the same with Fool, it might not be in iambic pentameter and it might technically be a book but I wholeheartedly believe that listening to this book is the way to go.

But back to the actual book. Pocket is a perfect fool. He is the quintessential Shakespearian fool, ruthless, smart, hilarious and constantly outwitting everyone and playing them against one another. Isaac Asimov once said that the great secret to the fool is that he isn't a fool at all, and that's the beauty of this book. It's twisted the well known story so that the fool is in the background of every scene, pulling the strings and putting words in everyone's mouth. Pocket might seem like the man in court with the least power, just a man with a puppet and black silk clothes, but he's got a finger in every pie. Nothing happens without him knowing about it and with his protégé Drool (who can mimic every voice he hears perfectly), he has every tool at his disposal to take power, wreak havoc or convince someone to fall in love with him - whatever he wants really.
“Perhaps there is a reason that there is no fool piece on the chessboard. What action, a fool? What strategy, a fool? What use, a fool? Ah, but a fool resides in a deck of cards, a joker, sometimes two. Of no worth, of course. No real purpose. The appearance of a trump, but none of the power: Simply an instrument of chance. Only a dealer may give value to the joker.”
This book is first and foremost a funny, funny book but it also has a hell of a lot of heart. Pocket isn't simply a mischievous trickster trying to make trouble for everyone. I mean he is, but there's also more to it than simply acting to move the plot along. Throughout the book we get glimpses into his childhood, and his early days in the castle with Cordelia, the little princess who didn't talk until he came to work for the king. It's still pocketed with humour, but these moments help round out all of the characters and give them a purpose so they aren't simply replicas taken from Shakespeare's page.

If you're fond of Shakespeare or bawdy tales or laughing a lot then you should hunt out this book and give it a read. Or a listen, because even if you've never been a fan of audiobooks I'm certain this one will change your mind. I'm off to download the sequel now, although I'm trying hard to hide my disappointment that it isn't simply a full length version of the play a group of travelling performers told Pocket about, Green Eggs and Hamlet.
“We've been rehearsing a classic from antiquity, Green Eggs and Hamlet, the story of a young prince of Denmark who goes mad, drowns his girlfriend, and in his remorse, forces spoiled breakfast on all whom he meets.”


*Which is a much better and much shorter time than the original title Shakespeare used "The True Chronicle of the History of the Life and Death of King Lear and His Three Daughters". Oof, get an editor dude.

**It's been a long time since I've read Lear, but I'm fairly sure he's just called Fool in the play right? 

***And not just colourful = crude language.


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