Book Review: The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
I’m thrilled to be participating in the blog tour for the brand-new Christopher Moore novel, The Serpent of Venice.
Christopher Moore writes about demons, sea monster, and vampires. Also about Jesus and Impressionist painters, talking fruitbats and humpback whales. In other words, this is an author who defies categorization, yet one thing is for sure: If you don’t fall on the floor laughing at least a few times reading any of his many novels, well… you’re probably doing it wrong!
Moore’s trademark humor is firmly in place in his newest novel, The Serpent of Venice, a follow-up to his 2009 novel Fool. Fool is a retelling of King Lear, with the king’s fool Pocket serving as main character and very clever (and occasionally obscene) narrator. In The Serpent of Venice, Moore returns to Shakespeare with the further adventures of Pocket, using as his framework not one but two Shakespearean plays, plus a little Edgar Allan Poe for good measure.
Loosely weaving together the plotlines of The Merchant of Venice and Othello (trust me, it works), with a bit of The Cask of Amontillado thrown in as well, The Serpent of Venice follows Pocket the Fool as he maneuvers his way through the devilish machinations of a host of scheming bad guys. He meets up with Shylock and his daughter Jessica, confronts the evil Iago, befriends the great general Othello and his wife Desdemona — and plays all sides against one another, with daring, wit, agility, and plenty of Christopher Moore’s trademark “heinous fuckery most foul”.
Remarkably, Moore weaves the source material into his outrageous new work almost seamlessly, so that for those who enjoy such things, it’s possible to take certain scenes and follow along paragraph by paragraph, and compare back to the same scene in the Shakespearean plays. Combining these works, modernizing the language as needed, adding in raucous humor and heaps of vulgarity — plus Marco Polo, a sea serpent, and a monkey named Jeff — may sound like a crazy mess, but in The Serpent of Venice, there’s a certain beauty to the wackiness, and it really holds together in a way that’s a wonder to behold.
Fans of the author will be gratified, as always, by his quirky, irreverent approach to language, not afraid to take some of the most honored works in the English canon and stand them on their ears:
“Thou mendacious fuckweasel,” said Emilia, almost spitting it, disgusted now rather than hysterical.
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” said Iago.
“Methinks the lady protests just the right amount,” said Emilia. “Methinks the lady is just getting fucking started protesting.”
Even from the book’s very beginning, we get a dose of prime Moore in the introduction “The Stage” that lets us know what we’re in for:
Strangely, although most of the characters are Venetian, everybody speaks English, and with an English accent.
Unless otherwise described, assume conditions to be humid.
For me, one of the most amazing pieces of this book is the author’s afterward. After laughing my way through the book itself, it was fascinating to read about the author’s research, his careful study of the source material, the decisions he made about the setting and time periods, and the historical elements woven into the story. Without being too preachy or teachy, he manages to convey a ton of information in these few short pages, so that I walked away from The Serpent of Venice not just having laughed, but also having learned about Venetian history in the 13th century, racism and anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s time… and what Christopher Moore really thinks about *ahem* being intimate with dragons.
Either Christopher Moore’s crazy approach to life and writing appeals to you or it doesn’t — and if it does, The Serpent of Venice is a treat. Fans will absolutely want to read The Serpent of Venice, and will not be disappointed. If you’ve never read anything by Christopher Moore — and you like to laugh and you’re not easily offended — I’d say give him a try! For Shakespeare with a twist, start with Fool and then read The Serpent of Venice… and if those appeal to your sense of offbeat humor, you’ll end up wanting to read everything else in the author’s catalog of funny, weird, and wonderful books.
About the Author:
Christopher Moore is the author of eleven novels, including the international bestsellers, Lamb, A Dirty Job and You Suck. His latest novel is Fool, a retelling of King Lear from the perspective of Pocket, the Fool.
Chris was born in Toledo, Ohio and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. His father was a highway patrolman and his mother sold major appliances at a department store. He attended Ohio State University and Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. He moved to California when he was 19 years old and lived on the Central Coast until 2003, when he moved to Hawaii.
Before publishing his first novel, Practical Demonkeeping in 1992, he worked as a roofer, a grocery clerk, a hotel night auditor, and insurance broker, a waiter, a photographer, and a rock and roll DJ. Chris has drawn on all of these work experiences to create the characters in his books. When he’s not writing, Chris enjoys ocean kayaking, scuba diving, photography, and sumi-e ink painting. He divides his time between Hawaii and San Francisco.
Christopher Moore’s website: http://www.chrismoore.com/
Title: The Serpent of Venice
Author: Christopher Moore
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication date: April 22, 2014
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours