JAY [00:00:00] “I dodged a well-flung trout then and paid Bubble a grin for not throwing her knife instead.”

[00:00:15] Welcome to Dog-eared and Cracked, the podcast where we each recommend a book for the other and then play Monday morning quarterback.

[00:00:29] Our tastes widely differ, so some podcasts will resemble a post-mortem on the most torturous of sessions of the most inhumane, where we’re forced to read the other’s books. Other times we may be pleasantly surprised, elated that a sliver of sunshine that the other recommends has made its way into our personal consciousness. I’m Jay.

PHIL [00:00:50] And I’m Phil.

JAY [00:00:53] And this week, we’re discussing Fool by Christopher Moore. So, Phil, you read Fool. Before we talk about what you thought about the book, why don’t you tell us a little bit of what the writer and introduce us to the book.

PHIL [00:01:47] OK, so the writer is Christopher Moore, who I knew nothing at all about other than having heard his name from you once or twice. So, I was surprised to learn he was American. He lives in San Francisco. I believe he used to live in Hawaii. And from what I understand, most of his books take place in the same universe. He’s like a comedy fantasy writer and this is one of the exceptions. So, it’s based on King Lear, although there’s a whole mishmash of other Shakespeare plays tossed in there, particularly Macbeth. And it’s the first book to feature Pocket. There are a couple more, I think. I do think he’s clever, with titles like–the next one is called The Serpent of Venice. And I think there is another one with Pocket as well. I don’t know if you’ve read, how many of these you’ve read.

JAY [00:01:54] I’ve read a few of his books. And it’s interesting just today, what I what I realised is I would put him as a contemporary with Nick Hornby. There’s another one, Jonathan Tropper. And it’s interesting, Christopher Moore, I don’t think he’s had any movies made from his books, even though he writes the same kind of comedic styles.

[00:02:13] I’ve read a couple of his sequels with Pocket, but I enjoyed this one the best.

PHIL [00:02:18] Every one of his books apparently has been optioned, but none of them have actually been turned into a film.

JAY [00:02:24] All right. No idea. That’s really interesting.

PHIL [00:02:29] I didn’t know anything about Christopher Moore either, sorry, I think you had recommended I read Lamb, I think at one point, and I borrowed it from the library and didn’t read it and then took it back.

JAY [00:02:43] So this is — we’re trending here. Did you make it through this book? To the end?

PHIL [00:02:49] Yes. But before I talk about that, tell me why you wanted me to read it.

JAY [00:02:55] I thought you might enjoy the banter. To me, that’s a huge part of it. I also really enjoyed the… There’s aspects of political intrigue. So it’s very similar to… He doesn’t veer too far off the Shakespearean. There’s a pattern with Shakespeare where he he writes about man’s power, his desire for power and all of the political intrigue that goes on with royalty. And he doesn’t veer too far off of that. He starts with the basic plotline of King Lear and then ultimately turns it from a tragedy into basically a comedic romp. So what did you think of the banter? Did you enjoy it or did it put you off?

PHIL [00:03:36] So it’s interesting you said that because I, I, I didn’t really think about the banter. At all. I mean, maybe I did. But it’s not what, you know, when I was writing some notes about what I thought of the books, that wasn’t one of the things that stood out for me. Although now that you mention it, it makes sense. I mean, you know, Moore kind of lost me right at the beginning with his warning.

[00:04:01] I’m going to read the 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. It goes on after that.

[00:04:17] But I thought, OK, like he’s apologising for his story, and it’s kind of like, oh, I’m I’m being bad. Like, a lot of this reminded me of a toddler. So there’s a picture of him on the back cover in a jester’s outfit. And I’ve seen a photo of him,  I think it’s the Wikipedia photo where he’s signing and he has like the big googly eyes. And so he put me off. He reminded me of — I’ve interviewed a lot of actors and comedians. And sometimes sometimes they can’t turn it off. And I feel like going, “Stop trying so hard all the time.” So I think that was my main issue with this book, is that it tried too hard. So, I I mean, I am a fan of the kind of let’s take a minor character and look at it from their perspective. I think that can, you know, really give you a lot of insight into a work. Right? So I like that.

JAY [00:05:17] So I felt he was consistently funny. And in terms of the dialogue, in terms of some ofthe jokes, there’s a joke — there were the three witches from I guess Macbeth are part of the plot line. And there is a play on words where Pocket and Kent are talking to the witches and they need to discuss this amongst themselves.

JAY [00:05:41] So the joke is in there goes, “Well, if you can’t be persuaded, let us have a consult,” said Rosemary. “Parsley, Sage, a moment.” She waved the other witches over to an old oak where they whispered. “{arsley, sage and Rosemary,” said, Kent. “What? No thyme?” Rosemary wheeled on him, “Oh, we’ve got the time, if you’ve the inclination, handsome.” But it’s that kind of play on words that I really enjoy. So would you consider that trying too hard?

PHIL [00:06:12] I felt like, you know when your toddlers learn how to swear and they can’t… And, you know, you go to the grocery store and they go like, oh, a fucking chocolate bar. So to me, it felt like, I’m having…

JAY [00:06:28] I raised my kids differently Phil. I never had that issue. But, sure, go ahead.

PHIL [00:06:37] We had lots of swearing.

[00:06:41] You know, I just felt like it was like, oh, look at me using all these fun British words, you know, snogging and shagging and bonking and on and on and on, and so I actually I felt a little more sympathetic or understanding at the end. Well, actually, before the end of the book, I went and read the author’s note, and that’s where I learnt that he was actually American.

[00:07:05] And I was interested to see that he did refer to Nick Hornby. He also referred to the Goon Show as one of his influences. And I thought it reminds me of old Goon Show sketches. So if that’s what he was going for, he succeeded. And for me, somehow it worked when it was the Goon Show in the 60s, I’m not sure it worked for me in the book. I did notice online some commentators compare it to Monty Python and I thought, that’s great, but I’m not sure I want to read a Monty Python novel right now.

JAY [00:07:39] The whole novel centres around Pocket. The main character. And he’s kind of the worst for it. If he had been taken out or changed as a character, do you think you still would have enjoyed the book or do you feel that the entire thing was.. no, I won’t use a word, Amaterasu. It just was playing to a level of reader that was kind of a little lowbrow.

PHIL [00:08:01] I don’t really have an issue with low \row. Like I like lowbrow. I have the feeling I’m going to in retrospect like this or appreciate it more than I did while I was reading it. Which is kind of the opposite experience of what I have when I go see a Steven Spielberg movie, which is while I’m in the theatre, I think it’s great. And then when I leave, I feel like dirty and manipulated.

JAY [00:08:24] Well, what about the plotline? Like, structurally, put aside kind of the dressings of the character, and the dialogue, which is, I think what put you off? Structurally, what do you think of the plotline in terms of how he tidied everything up at the end, how he veered off? The  little subplots.

PHIL [00:08:44] I did get lost in the intrigue sometimes, all the back and forth and Edmund and Edgar, but at a certain point I thought, OK, I’m willing to just roll with this and go along with it. I don’t need to, I don’t need — I would flip back, but I don’t need to totally keep straight who is doing what, when, to whom.

[00:09:04] And sure, there were some moments of humour in there as well. I warmed up to Pocket a lot more closer to the end. I think one of my issues is that he’s so emotionally distant. Every time something comes up that seems like a moment that there’s actually some sort of emotional feeling, he pushes it away. You know, makes some kind of cheap joke. And I guess you could say that’s because that’s his character. And he’s a fool. And so, of course, that’s what he’s going to do. But at the same time, over time, I felt like I wanted to get something a little bit more from him.

[00:09:50] And the one time I did feel that was when the witches give him that vision. And, you know, he had he’s he sees this — he goes back into his past and he sees this image that he was conceived through rape. Right?

JAY [00:10:07] Yeah.

PHIL [00:10:07] At that point, I think there is some genuine human emotion which kind of helped to salvage. Salvage is maybe too strong, but with which, you know, it did make me feel closer to him as as a character, you know. And it also really managed to get across. Lear’s evil and also just the banality and reality of I’m the King and I can do whatever I want.

JAY [00:10:34] Yeah, that was the one the parts of the novel that I thought — it’s interesting because we’re almost diametrically opposed. There a couple of points in the novel where I thought there are so out of tone. There was the blinding of Gloucester, which arguably is actually in King Lear. He is does have his eyes torn out. And then, of course, there was King Lear and his brother and the the incident on the bridge. And I thought those were almost jarring for me reading it, because I was looking for — I was enjoying this comedic romp. I was enjoying the dialogue. And it just seemed a bit dark. And I found it almost jarring and a little disconcerting. And the humanity, I agree with you.

[00:11:24] And so what I found, though, is it was in the relationship between Kent and Pocket. So Kent was the old, was an adviser of King Lear who had kind of taken a turn, had been put out by the fact that King Lear had renounced his daughters and had gone off on his own. And so Kent is the wise almost Yoda and he has this fondness for Pocket, and that was palpable and that was actually interesting for me. So I agree with you on how Pocket’s character did evolve and became a little more human by the end.

PHIL [00:12:20] There were several different versions of Lear that we’re kicking around. One of them is called the happy ending version. So in the version we know, everybody dies, right?

JAY [00:12:33] Right. Yes.

PHIL [00:12:34] But in the happy ending version, Cordelia survives and marries Edgar.

JAY [00:12:40] Yeah.

PHIL [00:12:40] And so here she survives and marries Pocket. So it’s interesting because it seemed like on the one hand, it seemed like having Cordelia survive was a major departure from the plot. But it actually fits with one of the versions that was produced for a long time. I do have to say, I’m glad that Pocket finally used those damned throwing knives he kept pulling out and not using for the whole book.

JAY [00:13:10] That’s right. Yes.

[00:13:15] I, I think. Let me ask you this. If if Moore had downplayed some of the more baudy aspects and presented more of a mature we’ll call it view, mature perspective of Pocket and had written the novel that way almost like… Have you read Oscar Wilde?

PHIL [00:13:37] A little bit. Yeah.

JAY [00:13:39] I find Oscar Wilde’s dialogue, banter, whatever you want to call it, is exceptional. Oscar Wilde is just full of that. It’s just perfect. Perfect.

PHIL [00:13:50] Like The Importance of Being Earnest?

JAY [00:13:54] Its cleverness. Yes. All of his plays.

PHIL [00:13:57] Yeah. Which I, and I loved that.

JAY [00:13:58] Yeah. So I enjoyed, so that was the part of Fool that I really enjoyed. So I guess the question I’m trying to ask is if we, if you downplay that part, the aspects that were a bit childish, kept that banter, kept that dialogue, would the book has been different for you? Would you have perhaps enjoyed it?

PHIL [00:14:17] That’s a tough question. I, I don’t want to sound like the guy who hates childish and immature and, you know, fart and sex jokes, cause I’m not. I made a note when I was reading this that I think I think page 105 was the first place I laughed.

JAY [00:14:37] That’s almost the whole book. Were you laughing because it was over?

PHIL [00:14:40] No, no, no, no. I’ve got my my version here and it’s like 200, 300-something pages. Actually, I can I can tell you the part that made me laugh is when he’s with the witches and there’s an apparition. I actually have it open to that page. And the apparition, you know, gives this warning. And Rosemary says he never lies. And Parsley says he’s often wildly fucking inaccurate, but not a liar.

[00:15:16] So I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say.

[00:15:19] My my experience of this book was also coloured by the fact that I had a really hard time staying awake for more than about 10 or 15 pages, said that I dropped it in the bath at one point and then finally one afternoon, I was like I’m just going to sit down and read like 150 pages in one go because I can’t keep going at this in little chunks and falling asleep. Now, whether that’s because I was tired, it just didn’t connect with me, you know, and I kind of felt… But here’s the funny thing though is actually when I saw there’s another book with Pocket, I thought, oh, I’m kind of curious and I’d be willing to read that.

JAY [00:16:01] Yeah, that’s that’s that’s odd. Very odd. So you’re you’re a glutton for punishment.

[00:16:07] I kind of figured that this was a case where either you really enjoy the character, you would enjoy the book if you didn’t enjoy Pocket. And because he is fairly off-putting and it’s almost arguably part of his job because he’s a fool in a court, he’s the court jester.

[00:16:25] And it really I think that’s what Christopher Moore was going for, is that fools are supposed to, because they have the capacity, arguably the responsibility, to basically insult other members of the court to get a laugh.

[00:16:40] I think that’s what he was going for in that Pocket comes off as insulting, arrogant, really provoking and in the sense that he’s really trying to poke the reader and annoy the reader. And I think that either you accept that and enjoy the novel or you’re just put off by it.

[00:17:02] So on a scale of one to five, and I think I know where your answer is going to be at this, but let’s just play along.

[00:17:10] So five stars means your knuckles are white from gripping the pages. And one star is a book so tepid and flat that you rather watch reruns of old amateur curling championships. Where would you rate this book?

PHIL [00:17:25] I would give it a two. I have to say, I’m glad I read the author’s note, because it really made me appreciate what he was trying to do more, which then made me feel a little more sympathetic towards the book. And there were parts I enjoyed, there were parts I laughed. When I think Regan calls Lear a senile old fuck. It just it, you know, those kind of anachronisms. They can be very funny, right?

JAY [00:18:02] Yeah.

PHIL [00:18:02] And I do appreciate that it was not easy to pull off and maybe not to my taste, but not like it was a terrible book. Right. So that’s why I would give it two. I might even be willing to consider giving it a 2.5, but I don’t think I liked it enough to go there.

JAY [00:18:24] That’s fine. And that’s good. That’s part of the point of this podcast. But I’ve also got another category now, so I’m going to call two stars is where you’ve only dropped the book in the bathtub a couple of times.

[00:18:38] So if… Now, let me ask you this, because we try and do this at the end of each podcast, and I know you didn’t enjoy the book and I respect you for reading it. Now, if this book was made into a movie, should it be made into a movie? Could it be made into a movie?

PHIL [00:18:57] Well, it’s interesting knowing that all of his books have been optioned and none of them have been made into movies. I mean, I know that a lot of stuff gets optioned. So I’m kind of curious about that. Have you seen the Netflix animated series Disenchantment?

JAY [00:19:12] No, I know what you’re talking about. It’s a fairy tale. Yes. Is it good?

PHIL [00:19:18] I did not see season two. Season one was very good. And the executive producer is, I guess he’s the creator is Matt Groening of The Simpsons. I could totally see it in that format. And I think it would be a lot of fun. I can I can totally see Pocket, you know, hanging an animated series on him.

JAY [00:19:39] That’s actually what I was thinking as well. But adult content, correctd?

PHIL [00:19:43] Yes.

JAY [00:19:44] In terms of adult jokes and it’s more of a… That’s exactly what I was thinking, because you couldn’t. If they tried to do this with CGI and real actors, it would come off as some type of version of The Hobbit or some type of Lord of the Rings epic, which with just language in it that would really turn off audiences. And I think as an animated — I totally agree, as an animated series or as an animated even a film, it would work a lot better especially with adult content.

PHIL [00:20:19] I mean, it’s interesting what you said about the character of the fool. And I did wind up thinking a lot about this, and it made me feel like I wanted to learn more about it. Like what, what was the role of the fool? And did the fools really take the piss out of their kings as much as Pocket does with Lear and everyone around him? I mean, the number of times that people want him hanged in the book, you know, makes you think it’s it’s a dangerous occupation and he’s playing with fire. So I was definitely curious about knowing more about that and I think that kind of thing n animation also plays very well.

JAY [00:21:00] I think it would be an interesting… that’s a really interesting idea, because you think about a fool. Is that a career-limiting move, to start insulting your employer, especially back then? When I would imagine fools are a fairly widely accepted commodity. But when you think about a comedian and people pay money to sit in the front seat and be, and be basically be insulted and heckled. And that’s part of the experience. So I can see a fool actually having that role with the king, with the court. Now, maybe he wouldn’t necessarily call out the king. He may call it his courtiers. Perhaps a prince who’s fallen out of favour. But I can see him insulting people and I can see that being kind of part of his his role.

[00:21:53] So, Phil, I would have rated this as a four.possibly a four and a half. It did become one of my more favourite books. But it’s interesting because over the years I’ve recommended it and perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve heard nothing back from people who purported to read it.

[00:22:15] So I guess it is one of those books that has a specific audience and doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone.

PHIL [00:22:22] I think maybe we should come back in a few months to a different one of his books. I’m curious to see how I would, how I would react to one of the others. So, I’m not going to tell you what to recommend. But if if you want to hit me up with another Christopher Moore in the future, I, I would be good with that.

JAY [00:22:43] I appreciate that. That would be a that’s an excellent idea. I will plant that in my mind.

[00:22:48] And this is the second book now that we’ve done where it involves King Lear. So we can maybe veer off that at this point.

PHIL [00:22:56] Also completely coincidental.

JAY [00:22:57] Please don’t recommend King Lear to me.

PHIL [00:22:59] So next up, we have The Utility of Boredom, which is a book I’ve recommended for you. And it is a series of essays about baseball.

JAY [00:23:11] Yes. Which will be interesting for our next couple of books, which I believe have nothing to do with each other. But I feel like there’s so many coincidences in this universe. Now, they probably do.

[00:23:23] And after that, I guess we’ve got The Conquest of Happiness and hopefully this time you didn’t drop this on in the bathtub either.

PHIL [00:23:30] I have the e-book on my phone, so if I drop it in the bathtub, I’m in trouble.

JAY [00:23:34] All right. Well, this has been great. We’ll see you next time.