2014; 326 pages. New Author? : No. Genre : Humor; Spoofery. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Start by blending Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado with two of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello and The Merchant of Venice. Keep the story set (primarily) in Venice, but move the time back 300 years to the 1300’s.
Add one court jester, and his entourage of a monkey, a village idiot, and a dummy. The latter two are not synonymous. Top off with a sea serpent; after all, there’s one in the title. Let simmer for a year or so in Christopher Moore’s fertile and demented brain. And voila! You have The Serpent of Venice.
Oh yeah. Garnish with a ghost. There’s always a bloody ghost.
What’s To Like...
There’s a Cast of Characters at the front of the book; this came in handy since of the three literary classics being blended here, I’ve only read The Merchant of Venice. The “mixing” is not complete – The Cask of Amontillado dominates the opening chapters; then Othello, then TMoV. Christopher Moore stays pretty true to the basic premise of each literary classic, but resolves each one in his own, and quite entertaining, way.
I liked the characters, especially those that weren’t “lifted” from the three classics. Pocket, our main protagonist, is a hoot, as are Jeff and Drool. You’ll love the “Chorus” and their interaction with the characters. There are occasional footnotes, which are as fun as the ones in Discworld. And Immurement shows up again, courtesy of the Poe tale. After a lifetime of never encountering it in my readings, it’s now crossed my path twice in a month. The other October book with Immurement in it is reviewed here.
Christopher Moore’s wit and writing mastery once again take center stage, and he is still in top-notch form here. However, there is abundant use of cusswords, and quite a few sexual references. I don’t remember his previous books being this full of R-rated stuff, but I’m way behind on reading his works, and perhaps his writing has evolved in this direction over the last 5 years or so.
For all the humor, the book also touches on some serious issues – most notably racism and anti-Semitism. But as Moore points out in a worth-your-while Afterword, this is primarily because those topics played prominent roles in the two Shakespearean plays.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Berk (n.) : a fool. A Britishism derived from the cockney rhyming scheme “Berkshire hunt”. I’ll let you figure out what it means in Cockney.
Others : Chundered (v.); Walleys (n.). I never did figure out what “walleys” were.
“Morning, love,” said my Cordelia.
She wore the polished black-and-gold breastplate of her armor with frilly knickers, which tipped me off that all was not in order.
“Are you a dream, or a ghost?” said I, reaching out to her, then catching myself before tumbling off the bed.
“Which would better suit you?”
“Dream, I think. Less annoying rhyming.”
“But then, there’s always a bloody ghost.” (pg. 140)
I nodded, then approached the sentry. “Beggin’ pardon, yeoman, would you happen to know if there’s an enormous simpleton with a monkey being held in here?”
“Might be, what’s it to you?”
“Well, the nitwit is this poor boy’s father, and we’re hoping to bring him home.”
“What’s the monkey, his little brover?”
“Half. We’re a poor family, and – “ (pg. 197)
“Cry havoc, and let slip the trousers of most outrageous bonkilation1” (pg. 23)
To be honest, the first part of The Serpent of Venice dragged a bit for me. In all fairness, Moore had a slew of characters to introduce and a setting to establish. But it was a challenge to find the plotline in all the tomfoolery.
This was undoubtedly due in part to my not having ever read The Cask of Amontillado and Othello. Moore adheres to their storylines rather faithfully, but that was lost on me, at least until The Merchant of Venice took over. However, once all the world-building was done, the Moore's innovative tale took center stage, and I warmed rapidly to this book.
The persistent use of cusswords and sexual innuendos got old. I wasn’t offended, just bored by the repetition. Yet who knows, if William Shakespeare was alive today, maybe he’d be writing in this style. Edgar Allan Poe most certainly would. His style was cutting edge in the 1800’s; there’s no reason he’d be a mainstream author today.
8 Stars. Add ½ star for each of the three classics employed here that you have read and/or been forced to memorize passages from. Parts like “the quality of mercy is not strained…” and “if you prick us, do we not bleed…”. Reading this brought back some old memories of high school English class for me. Not necessarily fond ones; just old.