Sequel to Fool
By Christopher Moore
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Christopher Moore's novels are a bit hit and miss for me, but the ones I love I love. And FOOL, a retelling of KING LEAR, is absolutely one of my favorites. I was quite excited to see that Moore was returning to the character of Pocket. (Jeff and Drool are back as well.)
In THE SERPENT OF VENICE, Moore throws OTHELLO, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, and "The Cask of Amontillado" into a pot with a dragon and lets loose with the results. Pocket goes to Venice on Cordelia's orders, to try to prevent another Crusade, but everything starts going awry when Cordelia is murdered. (This, sadly, means that there is very little Cordelia in the book, though of course her ghost does get to make an appearance.) After a rather odd misadventure, Pocket is sheltered by the Jewish community of Venice and makes his plans for revenge.
If you're familiar with the Shakespearean plays, it's quite interesting to see what Moore makes of them. Some heroes become villains, for instance. I didn't agree with all of his changes, but others made perfect sense. And I quite enjoyed the note at the end where he explains what guided him to his interpretation of certain characters, like Portia.
I think THE SERPENT OF VENICE isn't quite as good as FOOL, but it does have a high bar to clear there. However, it is just as hilarious, twisted, and perverse as I could've hoped. I don't normally have a vulgar sense of humor, but something about Moore's writing brings it out in me. THE SERPENT OF VENICE is more violent than some of his other books, but that suits the setting.
One of the things I think THE SERPENT OF VENICE does best is with Shylock, Jessica, and the other Jews. There just as much a part of the humor as anyone else, but Moore doesn't back down from showing that they are treated is wrong. The historical truths are there (often footnoted), and the modern sensibility is fairly scathing about it. At the same time, Shylock and Jessica are still allowed to be flawed characters.
I do recommend reading FOOL before THE SERPENT OF VENICE. THE SERPENT OF VENICE is capable of standing alone, but I think it is probably more fun if you know who Pocket and his companions are. If you enjoyed FOOL, then you should definitely read THE SERPENT OF VENICE. I'm very happy Moore decided to revisit these characters and their setting.