(Jump down to read a review of Fluke)
(Jump to read a review of The Stupidest Angel )
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple FEB 9, 2009)
The author’s warning: “This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank. If that sort of thing bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to offend. That said, if that’s the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story.”
Whether he is writing a mystery that includes a talking, sunglass-wearing fruit bat in Island of the Sequined Love Nun, a satire about the “missing years” in the life of Jesus in Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, or a love story about vampires in Bloodsucking Fiends and its sequel You Suck, Christopher Moore never fails to entertain and astonish the reader with his wacky take on life and love. He never rests on his pile of laurels, however, often stretching in new directions and tackling more challenging topics, as he did with Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, which investigates the plight of whales off the coast of Hawaii, and in this novel, in which he gives new life to the King Lear story.
Writing from the point of view of Lear’s fool, who regards himself as the “chief cheeky monkey to the King of bloody Britain,” Moore turns the King Lear story on its head. Lear, neither tragic nor a hero, is the unwitting (and unwitted) turning point in a farce which rivals the comedies of Shakespeare in twists and turns, surprises, and irony. And however off-color and sexy Shakespeare can sometimes be, he cannot begin to compare to Moore. Moore delights in his vulgarity, invents uninhibited and sexy characters who celebrate their body parts (the bigger, the better), and creates wacky and unexpected imagery which would have Shakespeare’s rabble in the pit absolutely rapt with attention.
The narrator, Pocket, known as the Black Fool because of his clothing, was raised by by the nuns at Dog-Snogging Abbey, where as the only male, he was often paraded nude, on the refectory table during dinner, “waving his winky.” Cast out of the abbey in his teens, after being caught while engaged in unconventional sex with a very willing participant, he wandered the country, learned to become a fool, and eventually ended up in Lear’s court, where he became a particular friend to Cordelia, the youngest of Lear’s three daughters. As the novel opens, Lear, who has become senile, is persuaded to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, since he has no sons, and he announces that he will give the most territory to the daughter who loves him most. Goneril, married to the Duke of Albany, and Regan, married to the Duke of Cornwall, see that their futures depend on “loving” Lear without reservation. Young Cordelia, however, is honest, announcing that much as she loves her father, she hopes one day to love a husband, too. She is instantly disowned and leaves the court to marry the Prince of France, who does not need her dowry.
In language that loosely imitates the cadences and sentence structure of Shakespeare’s plays, Moore creates the expected complications as Albany and Cornwall become bold in their machinations, raising armies to gain more territory. Eventually, France, too, sees an opportunity to invade. Edgar and Edmund, the two sons of the Lear’s friend, the Duke of Kent, are also involved in treasonous activities within Lear’s court. Pocket and his apprentice Drool just want to stay alive, and they must walk a tight line to avoid becoming involved with the wrong side. Ghosts materialize, three witches from Birnam Wood—Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary—offer advice, characters appear in disguise, and murders and maimings add bloody emphasis to the wild action.
Despite the gore, this IS a comedy, however, and Moore unites the various plot threads in two ways—first, through Pocket, who travels among different factions, and secondly through the characters’ sexual hijinks which are not confined to their own class. These, often instigated by Pocket, involve all the characters, who grab “opportunities” wherever they may arise and create moments of often slapstick craziness. The flashbacks that occur in hilarious scenes throughout the novel gradually provide new information about key characters, leading to a grand finale that is even more elaborate and more ironic than anything Shakespeare has devised. Only one device associated with Shakespeare’s complex comedies is omitted here: there are no twins.
This bawdy treatment gives us a new Lear, completely different from the Lear of Shakespeare and the Lear (Leir) of history, but Moore obviously has fun taking on this classic and adapting it and its language to his own purposes. Ultimately, he proves Pocket’s point: “We’re all fate’s bastards…Life is loneliness, broken only by the gods taunting us with friendship and the odd bonk.”
- Amazon readers rating: from 190 reviews
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"A Dirty Job"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JUN 4, 2006)
"You're trying to reconcile all the moms that Mom ever was—the one you wanted, the one she was when you needed her and she was there, and one she was when she didn't understand. Most of us don't live our lives with one, integrated self that meets the world, we're a whole bunch of selves. When someone dies, they all integrate into the soul—the essence of who we are, beyond the different faces we wear throughout our lives."
If this quotation sounds completely different from what you'd ever have expected from Christopher Moore, it's because this book is different from everything he's ever written. Noted for his irreverent and sometimes off-color humor, he has always ignored the constraints of the real world, creating new worlds and exploring new realities in his novels—the world of vampires in Bloodsucking Fiends, the spirit world of Native America in Coyote Blue, and the world of singing whales and the researchers who study them in Fluke. In this novel, however, he explores his most serious themes ever, employing humor as he examines the subject of death minutely, setting up some wild and wacky situations at the same time that he also makes many thoughtful observations about real life—and death.
Without giving up his playfulness, Moore creates an imagined world in which Charlie Archer, an always timid Beta male, comes face to face with death when his wife, just moments after giving birth to their daughter, suddenly expires. Devastated, Charlie comes to believe that he may be Death personified. Along with other "Death Merchants" like him, the "Santa's Helpers of Death," Charlie eventually learns that his mission is to retrieve "soul vessels"—those personal objects which contain the souls of the dead people who owned them--which the Death Merchants see as red and glowing. Not surprisingly, many of these objects have ended up in thrift shops, like Charlie's, used bookstores, and bric-a-brac emporiums after their owners' deaths, and the Death Merchant/owners of these shops must retrieve these soul vessels in order to "facilitate the ascendance of the [owner's] soul."
In the course of the five years that pass after his wife's death, Charlie meets a typically Moore-like assortment of strange people—a mailman who collects vintage 1970s pimpwear; the homeless "Emperor of San Francisco" and his dog Bummer; a tall, green-clad black man named Minty Fresh, who sells used CDs; and Lily, Charlie's young, school-skipping assistant, who steals The Book of the Dead which was sent to Charlie. Gradually, Charlie is initiated into the mysterious, other-world of Death, with its ferocious "sewer harpies," giant ravens who live beneath the streets; the Morrigan, three "women" who work with Orcus the Ancient One, who lives in the storm drain; the Luminatus, or Great Death, who keeps the balance between light and darkness; the Hellhounds, Alvin and Mohammed, who serve the Ruler of the Underworld but who also happen to be his young daughter Sophie's gigantic pets; and the "Squirrel People," fourteen inches tall, who are temporary vessels for souls until the souls can be transferred to other recipients.
Eventually, Charlie and his Death Merchant friends, working to retrieve and liberate souls, must fight the evil forces of the Underworld of the sewers, and in the final climactic section of the novel, a full-scale battle takes place, filled with the sort of non-stop action and crazy twists and turns that Moore has made his trademark, including a terrific surprise ending, guaranteed to leave a smile on your face.
As Moore examines the subject of death, usually a taboo subject for writers of humor, he offers some surprisingly imaginative scenes which highlight the outrageous ironies of death. At the same time, he offers his usual word play, puns, and throwaway observations about life, filled with great humor, as he draws the reader into the "world of death" and a new way of thinking about it. As Charlie notes, "I'm not going to be afraid…There might be a hundred different demons, but The Book of the Dead is right. They are only keeping us from our path. I think these things exist for the same reason I was chosen to do this, because of fear. I was afraid to live, so I became Death."
Giving new meaning to "the willing suspension of disbelief," A Dirty Job offers many witty observations about death and much food for thought about life. Though there are no "sequined love nuns," no sunglass-clad fruit bats, and no porn stars like Kendra, Warrior Babe of the Outland, in this novel, and no notable profanity or vulgarity, Moore maintains his iconoclastic spirit and his offbeat humor by giving us some new ways to look at death, the ultimate challenge for us all.
- Amazon readers rating: from 288 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from A Dirty Job at the author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Practical Demonkeeping: A Comedy of Horrors (1992)
- Coyote Blue (1994)
- Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story (1995)
- Island of the Sequined Love Nun (1997)
- The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove (1999)
- Trench Fever (May 2000)
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (2002)
- Fluke: Or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings (2002)
- The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror (2004)
- A Dirty Job (2006)
- You Suck: A Love Story (2007)
- Fool (2009)
- Bite Me (2010)
- Sacre Bleu (2012)
- The Serpent of Venice (April 2014)
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- Visit the Official Christopher Moore web site
- Reading Group Guide for Coyote Blue
- MostlyFiction.com review of Fluke
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Stupidest Angel
- MostlyFiction.com review of Dirty Job
- MostlyFiction.com review of Fool
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About the Author:
Christopher Moore grew up in Mansfield, Ohio and went to Ohio State for a bit and studied Anthropology. Then, he moved to California and studied photography at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, and took a bunch of extension courses in writing. He has held many jobs including journalist, radio deejay, waiter, roofer, a factory work making ceramic nativity scenes, a photographer, motel clerk and insurance broker. When he turned 30 and realized that he wasn't famous, he decided to write a book. His first book was published when he was 32 and was very successful so he wrote more.
He lives in Cambria, California.