Moore’s 11th novel (You Suck, 2007, etc.) re-imagines Shakespeare’s most austere tragic masterpiece with a transgressive brio that will have devoted bardolators howling for the miscreant author’s blood.
It’s the venerable tale of 13th-century British King Lear (who’s sometimes Christian, sometimes pagan) and the authoritarian vanity that alienates him from his three daughters, his kingdom and eventually his wits. It’s narrated by the eponymous King’s Fool, known as Pocket (for his diminutive size), who waxes profanely about his upbringing among monks and nuns, his cordial relationship with Lear’s youngest daughter Cordelia, carnal dalliances with her elder sisters Goneril and Regan and his quick-witted attempts to foment and manage civil war and thus keep Lear’s embattled kingdom from fully self-destructing. Ghastly jokes and groan-worthy puns shamelessly abound, but there are inspired sequences: a splendidly tasteless revision of the play’s opening scene, in which Lear unwisely solicits declarations of his daughters’ love for him; cameo appearances by a female ghost given to cryptic rhyming prophecies, as well as the three witches better known as agents of change in “Macbeth”; and a very funny impromptu arraignment at which Pocket is accused of shagging “innocent” Princess Regan. One does appreciate the characterization of Goneril’s effete steward Oswald as a “rodent-faced muck-sucker.” And surely readers can be forgiven for lamenting a mere passing reference to the play “Green Eggs and Hamlet,” or saluting disguised hero Edgar’s free translation of the Latin phrase “Carpe diem” as “Fish of the Day.”
Less may be more, but it isn’t Moore. Wretched excess doth have power to charm, and there are great reeking oodles of it strewn throughout these irreverent pages.