As I’ve mentioned before, I love Christopher Moore for his ability to make me forget the troubles of the world. If he has to do that by making me laugh at the most sophomoric humor imaginable, so be it. With Serpent of Venice, though, Moore surpasses this admittedly low bar by adding two other components that I dearly love: Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe.
At a book signing I attended, Moore explained that he got the idea for setting a monster story in Venice while visiting the city. He researched stories that took place in and around Venice and came up with three that formed the foundation for his novel: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, and The Merchant of Venice and Othello by William Shakespeare. His fool Pocket, from the novel Fool, fills the role of Fortunato, the ironically unfortunate fellow who gets walled up and left to die in Poe’s tale of insanity and revenge. In Serpent, the fool manages to survive with the help of a sea creature (the aforementioned monster) and goes on to uncover a plot to start another Crusade and seek revenge for his murdered love. There are also penis jokes and a monkey.
While this novel contains plenty of the silliness for which Christopher Moore is known, I was impressed by Moore’s ability to weave together three separate works of fiction (four if you are counting King Lear, from which Pocket originally sprung) without completely cannibalizing the original stories and remaining relatively true to their key plot points. While Moore is never one for giving lessons, he doesn’t shy away from the anti-semitism present in The Merchant of Venice, something I appreciated given the mixed feelings I have about the play. (Remember the 2004 film starring Al Pacino as Shylock? It addressed anti-semitism and resulted in the dreariest comedy ever filmed. Making prejudice funny ain’t easy, that’s for sure.) Mix in Iago, Marco Polo, and some pirates, and you’ve got the silliest mash up since the “Christopher Walken dancing” video hit YouTube.
As Moore aptly demonstrated in Lamb, he is capable of thoughtful reflection on weighty topics; he’s irreverent but never arrogant. Readers with delicate sensibilities may be offended by his language (if the title of this review bothered you, then Moore is not for you). But if clever plotting with a high dose of blasphemy is your thing, then what are you waiting for?