05 March 2015

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's THE SERPENT OF VENICE was a novelty to me: a historical farce (who knew such a thing existed?), a mash-up of Shakespeare and Poe (The Merchant of Venice, Othello, plus a little dash of The Cask of Amontillado), and, most of all, absolutely breathtaking wordplay.

Seriously. I've told several people, and I plan to tell anyone else who will listen: The man deserves a Pulitzer for his wordplay. He would make the Bard himself blush.

Lots of fans have posted quotes on THE SERPENT OF VENICE's Goodreads page, so I won't exhaust you, but I would like to point out a few favorites:

“The two had been together since they were little girls, and so loved and hated each other like sisters.”

“I'm feeling full of tiny princes, bustling to get out into the world and start plotting against one another.” 

I don't know for certain that Moore coined the phrase "Heinous fuckery most foul," but if he didn't, he certainly perfected its use.

The plot was actually rather brilliant, interweaving elements of the three source materials, molded to fit into a contemporaneous story and coupled with Moore's research: Pocket, the Fool, takes the place (and occasionally the name) of Poe's Fortunato, and is interred by Montressor Brabantio, Iago, and Antonio, who are conspiring together to plunge Venice into war.

Things spiral out of control from there, with ghosts, horny mermaids, Marco Polo, a Jewish lady pirate, and more. All the while, Moore's wit and humor shine through. I think the caper is to intricately plotted that, if you took away the humor, it would make an excellent political thriller, though it would certainly be diminished.

I read plenty of Shakespeare in both high school and college, as well as some Edgar Allen Poe, but I never got that much enjoyment out of them as a teenager. If I had been given this book first, I bet I would have enjoyed them a lot more. I know I will enjoy revisiting the source materials to see how Moore crafted his canny comic caper.