William Morrow: New York
Paperback, 326 pages
Christopher Moore has added another fun book to his opus of historical fiction with a twist. The Serpent of Venice is different from Sacré Bleu, his only other work that I have read, in that this book is his fictional take on fictional characters. Sacré Bleu was his fictional take on real characters. He also reintroduced some characters he has used in an earlier work, Fool. You certainly do not have to have read any of his previous work to enjoy this novel.
Moore takes the characters from Poe’s short story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” and mixes them with characters from Shakespeare’s Othello as well as the Bard’s The Merchant of Venice. As he explains in his afterword, some of the characters span centuries blended with Venice’s history, and this conflagration all worked for me. I was familiar with the layout of Venice, but a map of the city would help those who are not.
I love Poe’s story and have read it enough to remember the details. Othello is another more recently read work of Shakespeare that I am familiar with, but I probably should have at least looked at a summary of the plot of The Merchant of Venice to catch all of the nuances of the stories mixed together.
Moore might be one of those authors that you either really like or really don’t. I happen to think his work is brilliantly funny. His books are the kind that I want to read after reading some heavy-duty tomes and need a break from the seriousness. Yet I still get the history and fiction. The character of Pocket, the fool that blends the stories together with the help of a mysterious serpent living in the Venetian lagoon, is so sarcastic and yet has a heart for the downtrodden to which I really became attached and wanted to usurp his enemies. A dwarf in Venice who is aiding a damsel is another story familiar to me from In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant. I enjoyed how Moore uses a Chorus as Shakespeare did, practically as another character in which Pocket could verbally spar. Some might not enjoy today’s vernacular used mainly by Pocket, but I never tired of his modern-day barbs.
“Relax, Lancelot,” said Japheth. “The threat to our task will not come from the sea, but from such sharks as walk the land, and we are ready for them.” He pulled aside the finger of his gabardine and I could see a heavy oaken club hanging from his belt. I looked to his brother who grinned as he revealed an identical cudgel that he’d concealed.
I shrugged. “Say, what say ye, just for sport, instead of giving Antonio the gold, you two surprise him by bludgeoning him to pulp, perhaps a few of his cohorts, then we take the gold back to Tubal and have a drink and a good laugh over it?”
Really, what good was it to have two huge Jews with clubs if you couldn’t use them to bludgeon your enemies to meaty pulp? Granted, it wouldn’t be the slow, ironic retribution that Shylock was hoping for, but I thought he might recover from the disappointment and would deal somewhat better with a more unpleasant surprise he was about to receive.
“That would be wrong,” said Japheth.
“Wrongish,” said I, making the sign of tipping scales with my hand. “Not like it’s written in stone, is it?”
“Actually––” ventured Ham.
“Oh, all right––it’s like sailing with an ark full of fucking lawyers with you two. Fine, we’ll just deliver the sodding gold and leave Antonio unbludgeoned.”
Tour schedule for The Serpent of Venice can be found HERE.
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