BY NICO VREELAND
Author: Christopher Moore
Best ebook deal: Public library
Christopher Moore writes “comic novels,” which gives me pause. I love funny books, but I rarely read comic novels, because they always seem to ignore every other aspect of fiction on their quest toward cracking a joke every five sentences. Mainstream dramatic books, in my experience, can weave humor in with their story; they can create a melody of narrative, where comic novels usually lapse into a low, constant drone.
Fool reads, for the most part, like just such a drone. The story is King Lear, told from the point of view of the court jester, called Fool in the play, Pocket in the novel. Moore does his best Shakespeare impression, leaning toward bawdiness and away from drama. And his impression isn’t too bad, actually. If you unfocus a little, it might even pass at certain points. Not, however, the points where Moore can’t resist naming the King of France “Jeff,” or dropping in words like “dude” and “jizm.”
Pocket’s witticisms are often quite artfully turned, but rarely funny, and usually spoiled by Pocket bragging about them. The actual humor comes from other characters, when it comes. As a narrator, Pocket does a quite decent job, but the subject matter of the novel is ultimately a mistake.
The story of Lear is better than most of Moore’s usual wacky fare, but less given to actual humor, and Moore seems to feel he has to be quite faithful to the original. By halfway through, you can feel Moore wilting under the drama, laboring mechanically through the plot, desperately cracking the same sex jokes, fart jokes, gay jokes, and French jokes, over and over.
Occasionally, Moore comes across a gem of genuinely good writing—his best scenes are fabricated, especially those concerning Pocket’s backstory, growing up an orphan in a convent. Unfortunately, as soon as a well-written dramatic passage gets started, you can feel the clock ticking. Moore only has a limited amount of time to waste before he must lurch the narrative back to the central string of jokes, all of which are worn out after the first hundred pages. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead this is not.
However, Moore is a surprisingly good writer. I can’t help but wish that he wasn’t so constantly trying to be funny.
If you like his other books, you’ll find this one uneven, but probably worth the read. If you’re a skeptic, don’t start with this one. Try Lamb instead.
A really funny book: Light House, by William Monahan