Review: Fool by Christopher Moore

Fool website

Well, at least I was warned.

The inside dust jacket (as well as the front of the webpage and a few other places) of Fool bears a cute little warning:

“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!”

and I have to agree, this book certainly reaches “unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity.” I didn’t do an accurate count but it seemed like some variant of spooge/spunk/giz/gizm/etc appeared on every single page, sometime multiple times. And some of the relationships — oy. This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart, weak of stomach or otherwise easily disturbed. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, however.

This retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear follows Pocket, the Black Fool and jester at King Lear’s court, as he struggles to set things right after Lear divides the British kingdom between his two spiteful daughters and banishes his loving daughter. When Lear devises an idiotic plan to split up his kingdom amongst his daughters based on how much they say they love him, his daughters Goneril and Regan spin lies while his youngest daughter Cordelia, whom Pocket loves dearly, thinks the whole test is a load of bupkus and says as much. Lear banishes Cordelia for speaking the truth, then banishes his staunch supporter Lord Kent for defending her. Pocket, though he views Lear as a father figure, is rightfully pissed off and sets out to make things right. And after quite a bit of subterfuge, magic, mud, and (as Christopher Moore would say) fuckwittery, he does. Sort of.

The story itself isn’t bad. The plot is satisfyingly twisty and the characters are fully realized. Considering that it’s pulled from Shakespeare a happy ending isn’t guaranteed, which adds some suspense to the reading. The footnotes are humorous and helpful, since some of the language sprinkled in is Old English and some is just British slang that American readers might not recognize. The anachronistic references — a specialty of Christopher Moore’s that worked very well in Lamb — and quasi-fourth-wall-breaking comments were hilarious, like the bit about how “there’s always a bloody ghost.” And the voice the story is written in, which is a Moore trademark, is humorous as always.

What got to me, however, was the amount of sex and wanking that went on. It was nearly constant and some of it was frankly rather icky. Not to mention the people Pocket has slept with — not only has he slept with Regan and Goneril, Cordelia’s half-sisters, but also (minor spoiler alert) Cordelia’s mother. And the laundry wench. And the kitchen wench. And some random wench in the great hall. And…well, the list goes on. Add to this Drool, Pocket’s assistant, wanking off to or humping just about anything that moves (and some things that don’t), and the descriptions of the quantities of spooge resulting from said wanking and humping, and you have a book that I very nearly put down forever after the first couple of chapters. Thankfully, the first few chapters are the worst in that regard, and after I got past them and the plot really started moving I was able to suppress the squick factor and enjoy the story.

Also, I wish the author’s note had been at the beginning instead of the end, because knowing that he had used bits and pieces from other Shakespeare plays (most notably the witches from MacBeth) would have saved me quite a bit of confusion.

Overall, this book is worth reading if you enjoy Christopher Moore’s humorous voice and if you don’t mind the squicky bits. It’s definitely not his best work — for me, his best is still Dirty Job followed closely by Lamb and Blood Sucking Fiends — but it is better than some of his others (I never did like Fluke that much. There was a lot of spooge in that one too — anyone else see a pattern here?) I give it a final grade of B-/C+.