Friday, July 18, 2014

Contemporary Fiction: The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

I certainly arrived late to the Christopher Moore party as the first book I ever read by him was Sacre Bleu, which was published only two years before his latest book that I am writing about today, The Serpent of Venice. More devoted fans will recognize some of the characters in The Serpent of Venice as they also appeared in Fool, which was published in 2009, and now is a must read for me as I would love to know how Pocket's adventures first started.

The Situation: Brabantio, Iago, and Antonio have decided to murder the fool Fortunato, also known as Pocket. They have already murdered his love and Queen, Cordelia, and now proceed to chain him up and wall him in, much like what is done in Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado. But just as Pocket has resigned himself to death, he is saved by a horrifying, although incredibly helpful, serpent-like creature he has decided to name Vivian, or Viv for short. Now, Pocket, who was already bent on revenge for the death of his beloved Cordelia, must find those who have wronged him and sought to end his life, while simultaneously hiding the fact that their plan didn't succeed.

The Problem: For Pocket, keeping his identity a secret while carrying out revenge is difficult enough. But it doesn't help that Iago is attempting to be rid of Othello, a friend of Pocket's, and also be rid of Cassio, Othello's second in command. Also, Antonio and Iago both have come up with a scheme to have Antonio's young friend Bassanio win Portia's hand in marriage, therefore giving him a seat on the council that would have been given to Othello if the plot to have him out of the way works out. And in order to even attempt such a thing, Bassanio would need to have Antonio borrow money from the Jew, Shylock, whose own daughter, Jessica is intent on running away with Lorenzo, another of Antonio's friends. Somehow, Pocket has got to foil all of his enemies' plans while also keeping himself alive and getting revenge for the wrongs done to him, plus find his giant idiot accomplice, Drool, and the monkey, Jeff. It also doesn't help that the serpent-like Viv enjoys showing up and killing off men in an incredibly gruesome manner. Pocket is certain Viv won't harm him, but he doesn't know that for sure, and can't quite figure out how he has gained such an ally.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a humorous fiction novel set in late 13th century Venice. It borrows heavily both the characters and events from William Shakespeare's Othello and The Merchant of Venice. It also borrows from the already mentioned The Cask of Amontillado. In order to use the elements from the two Shakespeare plays, Moore had to move their timelines up by a few hundred years, as both were set in the early 17th century. Some geographical changes were made as well, but ultimately, both plays were set in Venice, which is why Moore chose them for the book. He has Iago and Brabantio from Othello join forces with Antonio from Merchant, therefore making Antonio an antagonist instead of a hero. Moore has also made Othello's Desdemona the older sister to Portia from Merchant, allowing Brabantio to be the father of both. While The Merchant of Venice has elements of anti semitism, Othello has elements of racism, and both certainly play a part in Moore's book. But Serpent also has elements of hypocrisy, greed, revenge, courage, and adventure.

My Verdict: To me, this book was like a How It Should Have Ended for both Othello and The Merchant of Venice. These two plays are some of my least favorite that I have read of Shakespeare's. Othello is just a little too tragic, and Merchant I don't actually think to be that funny. But Moore certainly changes that and has some fun creating his own ending. As I mentioned in the introduction, reading this book has also made me want to find a copy of Moore's Fool so that I can read how Pocket's adventures first began. The book is incredibly funny, and certainly makes for a fantastic introduction into some of Shakespeare's characters for those who may not be all that familiar with the Bard's plays. 

Favorite Moment: When Pocket is able to find and rescue his giant if slow-witted friend Drool. He is certainly a gentle giant, and while he may be stupid, he is still useful with specific skills of his own apart from his enormous size and strength.

Favorite Character: There are certainly many great characters in this book, and while I am tempted to pick Drool, or even Viv, the serpent, I think instead I will go with Jessica. She may a bit blind when it comes to love, and has no problem abandoning her own father, but ultimately she makes a great companion to Pocket while he attempts to carry out his ridiculous schemes.

Recommended Reading: I would most likely recommend Fool had I actually read it, so instead I recommend Moore's previous novel Sacre Bleu. The book focuses on post-impressionist painters and has them as its main characters. Like Moore's other works, it is funny, vulgar, irreverent, and has fun with history. 

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