Thank god for Christopher Moore. Dollar for recession dollar, a Moore book is guaranteed to garner more good times and laughs than a night spent at your local bar, or watching a sub-par comedy at your neighborhood cinema. His newest, Fool, is no exception. But be warned: Portion out your reading, and make it last like a Depression-era casserole, 'cause while he may be prolific, you're not getting a new entrée from Moore until 2010.
Fool is a hysterical mash-up of Shakespeare's tragedies, in particular the balls-out madness of King Lear. Moore's novel is narrated by Pocket, a right witty and randy jester who first watches and then orchestrates the chaos that ensues when his king, Lear, decides to relinquish his throne to his three daughters based on the fervor of their proclamations of love and fidelity. Lear's two oldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, brown-nose their way into splitting the kingdom, while sweet, naïve Cordelia keeps it real and thus earns the scorn of her father. Cue the murder plots, power plays, and outlandish scheming. Oh, and it gets nice and ribald, too.
Pocket is more familiar with juggling and tumbling than poisoning his enemies, and when he becomes deeply embroiled in the political chess game, his good humor starts to flag. "Do you know that there's no fool piece on the chessboard?" he asks his friend, who answers, "Methinks the fool is the player, the mind above the moves." Beneath Pocket's ridiculous appearance, something great lurks, much like Moore's pithy, anachronistic novel. Fool is like reading an Elizabethan comedy penned by Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, with some comedic help from Terry Prachett when it comes to the masturbation bits.
With the benefit of Pocket's wit and absurdist irreverence, the tragic King Lear becomes a riotous out-and-out comedy, avoiding the tired pitfalls that plague a lot of the Bard's reimaginings. The foreword warning rings absolutely true: "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 non-traditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank." The comic relief of the fool is just as appealing to us in these broke-ass times as it probably was to the peasant groundlings at the Globe.