Tuesday 22 April 2014

The Serpent of Venice - Christopher Moore

Following on from Fool, which was Christopher Moore's take on King Lear, we are transported to a semi-mythical thirteenth century Venice to follow Pocket the fool as he tries to thwart some war mongering Venetians.
This is Merchant of Venice meets Othello meets The Cask of Amontillado, with a bit of Marco Polo's travels and bits from other Shakespeare plays thrown in for good measure; and if I'm honest it shouldn't work. But oh my goodness, in the hands of Christopher Moore it is sublime. Pocket is a brilliantly filthy little character, with endless talk of his knob and with his repulsive giant Drool in tow. In fact part of the beauty of this book is the irreverent way that Moore tackles the Bard. Nothing here is sacred, and it is all the better for it. Well known and quite beautiful speeches taken directly from the plays are torn to shreds with the asides and interruptions from the motley cast of characters, who then in turn are often torn quite literally to shreds by the immature dragon that Marco Polo has unfortunately let loose in the canals of the city!
The history and attitudes of the period and of the plays interacts wonderfully with the almost modern sensibilities of Pocket, and the instances of really juvenile toilet humour tearing holes in the original plot construction are very very funny. One of my personal favourite moments came when Othello demanded Desdemona produce his mystical hanky, as proof that she had not given it away. I don't want to spoil the joke for anyone but it involved the necessity of 'cleaning up' after sex, that might just ring bells with a good number of people.
Another clever and very funny construct of the book is the use of a Chorus to help move the plot along. anyone with any kind of familiarity with sixteenth century theatre will know that these narrators often got some amazing lines, but that they were also ignored by the players themselves. Here, not so much. The Chorus butts in from time to time, adding his own little spin on the plot and characters; they then either get all confused as to who the idiot 'narrating' is or become quite defensive and argumentative about his comments. It makes for some very funny exchanges. Pocket is quick to dismiss the Chorus as

'Just a grandiose nutter who can't help himself bursting through the fourth wall like a great dim-witted battering ram.'

A dismissal that certainly made me giggle. 
In fact I found myself giggling a fair bit as I read this, not only that but the book managed to combine all the different elements and create a pretty damn satisfying conclusion to them all, probably one that is actually more satisfying than the original in fact. If you are looking for an entertaining, intelligent read that is sure to put a smile on your face, then you could hardly do better than to pick this up.

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