I actually finished reading this book on Tuesday, but I had to wait for my book high to dissipate before I could actually write a review of it. I’d just gush otherwise.
After his adventures in Fool, Pocket has moved on to Venice to stop a crusade on orders from his beloved Queen Cordelia. Fool was a retelling of King Lear, but Christopher Moore’s The Serpent of Venice reads more like a mashup of Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” As Pocket tries to avert a war, he gives marital advice to Othello and tries to thwart Shylock’s enemies. Oh, and he pisses off a man named Montressor a few too many times as well.
The timeline of The Serpent of Venice zips back and forth as Pocket receives his orders from Cordelia, arrives in Venice, and makes friends and enemies. At the very beginning of the book, Moore drops us in the thick of the action as Pocket the Fool is about to be bricked up behind a wall by Montressor. He only manages to escape with the assistance of a horny sea serpent*. Once free, Pocket finds that having his enemies think that he’s dead gives him a lot of freedom to act. Shylock gives Pocket a job as a servant and soon Pocket is not only trying to get revenge on Montressor and Iago, he’s also trying to help Shylock get his pound of flesh from Antonio**.
Just like I was bothered by Lear, there were things about Othello and The Merchant of Venice that deeply annoyed me. If only Othello had been less jealous and more trusting of poor Desdemona. If only Shakespeare had been bold enough to not make Merchant anti-Semitic. At times, The Serpent of Venice reads like an attempt to fix the characters’ many problems. Pocket is always in just the right spot or causes an interruption at crucial moments to outfox Iago and Antonio. I cheered when I saw the moments when Othello might go into a rage or when Portia would twist the law to get Shylock exiled averted—and always in the most hilarious way possible***.
Moore was always a skilled, entertaining writer, but I think he’s outdone himself with The Serpent of Venice. I was awed by the way he managed to weave his plot into Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. I could not put this book down. There’s one dog ear on page 50, but I finished the rest of the book in one go. I ate with one hand while I read. I drank with my eyes peering over the top of my glass so that I could keep reading. Sure, it’s a cliché, but it’s true.
* This may be Shakespeare, but it’s also Christopher Moore, so there are a lot of dick jokes. There were many passages in this book that had me snickering with glee like a twelve-year-old boy.
** Not actually a metaphor, according to the original play.
*** One such moment involves a nun costume and did I mention the dick jokes?