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Book review: Leering at Lear in Moore’s Fool

BY DAN WATSON | FEBRUARY 17, 2009 7:40 AM

“Shagging,” “boinking,” “boffing,” and “fuckery” may not be words one conjures up when thinking about Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear, but they have their places in comic novelist Christopher Moore’s retelling, Fool.

Anyone familiar with the play knows that the character of the fool is a source of intrigue. Why does Lear respect him so much? How is the fool so intelligent? Where does he go in the midst of Lear’s descent into madness? Moore plays with these questions while adding his own provocative humor in Fool, his latest novel.

Moore is most recognizable for his funny and far-fetched book Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, in which he tells of the adventures of Jesus and his fictional friend Biff during Christ’s “lost years.” Where Lamb wins with outlandish yet thought provoking humor, Fool fails with far too many vulgar jokes.

Fool’s risqué nature is at times overwhelming and weighs on the reader. The fool, in this incarnation named Pocket, has a bag full of sex puns that seems to be bottomless. The boinking going on in Lear’s castle is frequent and Moore is generous with the details.

While the jokes are funny, the reliance on absurd humor makes it difficult for readers to take Pocket seriously at his clever moments. Moore’s humor is best when he engages in literary celibacy.
Moore incorporates many modern terms throughout the text. King Lear’s actual setting is up for interpretation; even Shakespeare had difficulty placing the play’s period. In contrast, Moore sets the play somewhere in the 13th century. We learn Pocket likes the shagging associated with pagan holidays, but takes Christ’s side so he can rest on Sundays.

Moore also takes stabs at contemporary politics, writing of Lear’s castle on the first page of the novel, “A thousand years ago, before George II, idiot king of Merica, destroyed the world, there were ravens here.” Not hard to find the subtext there.

Aside from the sex and occasional fashionable puns, Moore’s story line stays true to Shakespeare’s. Reagan and Goneril, Lear’s older daughters, are manipulative liars, and Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter, is righteous but misunderstood. Moore’s Lear also goes mad before he dies. All this will not surprise readers of King Lear, but Moore’s story about Pocket’s previously unknown childhood — a chief motif of Fool — certainly will.

Through flashbacks and witches’ magical potions Moore shows the reader how Pocket became the fool. The author attempts to hide aspects of Pocket’s childhood behind a literary curtain, but the reader would have to be asleep not to pick up the clues.

Along with creating Pocket’s childhood, Moore adds numerous characters and thus depth to the plot. Pocket’s enormous, slow-witted, and horny apprentice fool, Drool, plays a somewhat significant role in Fool — he complements Pocket’s sarcastic humor nicely with obvious, slapstick jokes.

Some of Pocket’s witty pranks and comebacks are dipped into Shakespeare’s language. Moore reveals the definitions of certain English words as footers at the bottom of pages — much like readers would see in abridged Shakespeare collections. The footers become somewhat distracting and interrupt the flow of certain passages. Moore didn’t need to add the footers — many are explained in the context — and the others are simply unnecessary.

Though the original King Lear ends in darkness, Fool could not be a proper parody without a Shakespearean happy conclusion. All ends well for the righteous, as it goes, and although the reader may not be able to say the same, at least it ends.


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