Did you ever enjoy something, but not enjoy it as much as you thought you should, and you can't figure out why, so you start to assume the problem is with you, not with what you were supposed to enjoy? I'm thinking that's where I am with the newest book from one of my all-time favorite writers, Christopher Moore. The book, Fool, is everything that should make me curl my toes in glee. It's a Moorish take on Shakespeare's King Lear, told from the point of view of Lear's fool.
Now, I just spent all last summer and fall writing my own comic version of Hamlet. Oh, I'm not fucking around here, I really did it, despite advice to the contrary. I figure, if you're a writer, sooner or later you're going to start making allusions or references or borrowing and so why not just dive in and see what you can do? The original material really is that good that it can stand idiots like me mucking around with it. Of course, as someone wise advised me as I began meddling about, just because it can withstand such attacks doesn't mean it should have to tolerate them, and it could be a really foolish undertaking to even attempt. But, fuck it, I did it anyhow! And it was really fun.
But then, when I saw what Moore's latest release would be, I felt a twinge of jealousy. This wasn't just because he had the career to get his published and be a bestseller, but also because I knew his dance in Bardland would be insanely superior to my attempted tango with Bill. And it is, for sure. (Of course, forget I said that when I start pimping my book!)
And yet, I can't help but be a wee bit bugged by all the reviews who proclaim the concept so freaking unique. It just makes me think that apparently, it's not just that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but that the whole fuckin' world has forgotten about Tom Stoppard.
Nevertheless, the device that Moore uses of taking an off-center minor character and making him the protagonist often is a great way to breathe new life into a well-worn story. (My beloved Rome did exactly this by showing the ascension of the Caesars through the lives of Pullo and Vorenus. (Damn, I miss that show!)) And Moore does breathe a lot of comic life into the tragic tale of Lear through his brazen fool, Pocket.
As usual, Moore creates not just one wacky character, but a whole cast of fabulous freaks. There is wit, there is treachery, and plenty of borrowed, British buzzwords from Extras and Bridget Jones. (Yes, Moore IS having a laugh on Lear!) Also a plus, not that he's ever been afraid to toss about the f-word or inject a little sex, this is, as advertised, his most "bawdy" work to date -- just as Shakespeare would want it, I'd assume.
There is also no doubt that fans of Moore will find plenty to love here, as did I. And, yet...
Is it just me? Or is this particular book probably not going to rank on anyone's list of all-time favorites? It's a similar conceit to the one that Moore used in his masterpiece Lamb, and maybe it's because of that similarity that I mentally compared the two before even reading Fool. And I just can't imagine many books would manage to stand toe-to-toe with Lamb. But I can also easily crank off five other Moore titles that I preferred, too. But is that just my jealousy talking?
I'm not so sure. Moore is at his wacky best when he's playing in his own pools. Fluke was the only book I'd been disappointed in, and it was based on real people. Perhaps Moore tackled a lot by tethering himself to Shakespeare's characters. But, mostly, I got the distinct impression while reading the book that Moore sort of hated King Lear (the character), and that was damn near admitted in his end-of-book acknowledgments. He did an absolutely great job weaving in his own "mistaken identity" surprise twists, but one of them ended up being a little too close for my comfort.
Moore's fool has all the rascally, quirky, and lovable qualities one would expect from one of Moore's leading men, with one major difference. Frankly, most of his leading men are, in some fashion, bumbling. They're put-upon or slightly inferior beta dogs. But Pocket really isn't. He's obviously smarter than everyone else and it's his job to prove that in witty fashion at every opportunity. Whereas his normally beleaguered men pop off in frustration, Pocket jests from a vantage point of superiority. Maybe that's why I didn't exactly warm to him as much as some others.
I don't know what it is. But I do know that objectively, it's a hell of a great book with a lot of laughs and plenty of innovative twists on a beloved, tragic old tale. And, I'm pretty sure, if you're not even acquainted with Lear, you'll still enjoy it. But since he borrows heavily from Shakespeare's whole portfolio, some familiarity might get you a few more chuckles.
So even though it's not replacing Lamb as my all-time favorite, or even knocking Lust Lizard out of second, I still think it blows most of the other stuff on bookstore shelves out of the water. Moore, he could do this kind of book, and he's exactly the guy who should do it, and he did it bloody well. It was, most certainly, not a foolish undertaking.