Book Review: Fool
Shakespeare was one bawdy bard.
Most people dont understand him that way, since he is also a symbol of refined culture and English literary tradition. He wrote sonnets and a bunch of plays that many kids resent having to read in high school, perhaps without appreciating how liberal a schoolboard must be to allow you to read dirty jokes for grades.
Thus we have the premise for Fool, the literary quest of which I suspect is to anger a bunch of readers who think they understand Shakespeare better than they actually do. Moore turns King Lear on its narrative head with a protagonist who gives him free rein to mercilessly mock everyone in the most lewd manner possible, a court jester named Pocket.
Pocket, funnily enough, is no fool. He seems to know better than most what is going on within the confines of the court, though he is not always entirely aware of the plot in which he plays a pivotal role.
As the plot advances in a way roughly similar to King Lear we are reintroduced to familiar characters Regan, Goneril, Cordelia and Edmund, among others but in a farcical manner that is not always at odds with Shakespeares original notion of the character. Pocket is always there to tell them how stupid or dishonest they are in comical terms, narrowly saved from vengeance by his own wit or by the protection of Lear.
And, of course, there are witches. And always a bloody ghost. The conventions and typical plot devices of Shakespeare are abused in jest, though the manner by which this abuse occurs reveals a close study of the source material and the history behind it. If this is not immediately clear, Moore discusses it in an authors note. He will not let you mistake this for a rush job story, provided you read everything.
The reader also gets back-story to learn how Pocket came to be, eventually including one of the key plot twists of the novel. Fool is not just a fun rework of a classic tale but a broad story of which the original plot of King Lear is a crucial part. Though he initially strives to help Cordelia back into Lears good graces (and to save himself from angry nobles who would kill him the moment Lear no longer has the power to protect him) Pocket gradually learns why life took him where it did, and why he is the ideal person to help destiny unfold the way it does. The order revealed from the apparent chaos of his life mirrors the order that emerges from a chaotic looking story.
Much humour comes at the expense of Pockets mentally challenged friend and assistant, Drool, yet at the drop of a hat Moore can write parts which show how deeply Pocket cares for his friend. The oscillation between low-brow humour and sad sweetness can be jarring at times.
This is a fun book for at least the first half, but your mileage may vary. Moore does such a thorough job of driving his point home that I reached the Okay, I get it stage somewhere between one half and two thirds of the way through.
The reward for reading the rest of the book is to see how so much of the seeming chaos of the beginning had a well thought out narrative point in the end. For all that it is dirty, the book is thoughtfully built. Its just difficult to read far enough along to see all that careful planning come to fruition.