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Combining plot points and characters from The Cask of Amontillado by Poe, Othello and The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, Moore sends Pocket the Fool off on another adventure, this time in medieval Venice. Pocket, nicknamed Fortunato by the Doge starts at a very low point in his life. He is the intended victim of a conspiracy between some merchants of Venice and Iago who want to start a crusade in order to increase their wealth. The last one had worked so well for them. Pocket is so low that he little cares for his life-- until he discovers that this conspiracy is the cause of his misfortunes! Most Heinous F___ery, as he says.
And the story takes off-- ribald, bawdy and very, very clever as Moore combines characters from all the stories into a fun listen. Christopher Moore is funny when read by oneself, but when Euan Morton does the narrating it is rib splitting and laugh out loud-- if you like Christopher Moore's brand of humor. HIs satire about recent world events is spot on.
So why not 5 stars across the board? I thought that there were a couple of places where it moved a little slow. Also there were so references back to events and characters in Fool that probably would have confused a new reader. I just took it as an opportunity to listen to Fool again.
In fact, if you thinking about buying this listen and have not heard Fool you would do yourself a great favor if you listen to Fool first. Both books have entertaining Author Notes read at the end by Christopher Moore himself explaining why he made the choices he did in terms of characters and time periods.
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What made the experience of listening to The Serpent of Venice the most enjoyable?
I am in a small minority of people who seriously dislike Shakespeare and are not abashed to admit it. I just never got it. But one thing I've always loved are alternative interpretations of Shakespeare. Most of those have been on film, but there are plenty of novels that fit the bill as well. One of the best is "Fool" by Chris Moore. That was the first of Moore's books that I read, and I've since torn through almost all of his non-vampire back catalog (I don't like vampires either, but maybe Moore can do for them what he does for Shakespeare, so I'll get to them at some point).
"The Serpent of Venice" is a sequel of sorts to "Fool", and it is every bit as good. "Fool" is a retelling of "King Lear" told from the point of view of Pocket, the king's jester. It is laugh out loud funny -- I was laughing even before I started reading it, just looking at the map on the frontispiece. Pocket returns in "Serpent" to participate in the retelling of two Shakespearian plays that are set in Venice -- "The Merchant of Venice" and "Othello" with Marco Polo and a dragon and some Edgar Allan Poe thrown in for good measure. And it is just as laugh out loud funny,
What other book might you compare The Serpent of Venice to and why?
"Fool" is the obvious answer, but that's too easy. There are any number of novels that are retellings of Shakespeare or otherwise inspired by him or his works. If I were to go totally off the reservation, I'd point to "Arthur Rex" by Thomas Berger, which has nothing to do with Shakespeare but is like "Fool" and "Serpent of Venice" a comic retelling of the well-known legend of King Arthur (Berger did it several times in other books too with other material, like Orestes in "Orrie's Story").
But the best point of comparison, hand's down, is Chris Moore's very own "Lamb" -- in the same vein, "Lamb" retells a well-known story (the Gospel) from the point of view of a comic side character. In this case it is Jesus's fictional best friend from childhood, Biff, who joins him on many (fictional) youthful adventures. He tells his story in an amalgamation of the language of the time, as we might imagine it in English, and the vernacular of contemporary English, often with great comic effect. That is the formula Pocket uses to make "Fool" and "The Serpent of Venice" so funny and engaging.
Have you listened to any of Euan Morton’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
I didn't know it at the time, but Euan Morton got me started on listening to audiobooks. My wife always preferred audio, but I stuck doggedly to print (I still read a lot of books in print). When Moore's last book, "Sacre Bleu", came out, I got a hard copy for myself and the audio edition for my wife. I struggled halfway through the book, enjoying it but having a hard time actually reading it. With a long drive ahead of me, I grabbed the audio version and finished it up, enjoying it so much more than the print edition that I started to listen to audio regularly.
I have already read "Fool" in print, but I may not go back and re-read it in audio, narrated as well by Morton. I have come to believe that Moore is best read in audio. A good narrator with good comic timing can make the best lines work better than I can in my imagination (I find the same to be true of A. Lee Martinez and John Scalzi). Morton does a great job with Moore's books.
That said, I think he misfires badly with his voicing of the chorus, too shrill and over the top. On the other hand, Pocket and Iago and Jessica are really well done, as are most of the other characters who have funny lines -- Othello and Shylock, the serious characters, are read as such, so they don't stand out as much.
If you could take any character from The Serpent of Venice out to dinner, who would it be and why?
Pocket, of course. But only if he brings the Puppet Jones with him and speaks at least a little effing French. I would ask him to leave Drool and Jeff the monkey behind if it was dinner so that we could maintain at least a veneer of decorum, although I wouldn't expect Pocket to control himself throughout.
Pocket is a great creation.The smartest person in the room despite playing the role of fool, and despite constantly allowing his ego to interfere with his thought process. And an expert in cracking wise in a combination of Shakespearian English and contemporary slang (with a bent toward vulgarity in both genres), and with that dash of effing French thrown in just so he can say effing French as much as possible.
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