Friday, February 06, 2015

Favorite Book

If you ask what my favorite book is, I usually roll my eyes.  How can a person answer that?  How do you compare Pride and Prejudice with Going Postal?  Is it the book I want to reread most often (The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp), or the one I think is most technically mind-blowing (Asterios Polyp), or the one that makes me think the most (The Sparrow)?

At some point in the past 20 years, I would have listed any of these books as my favorite, along with Clan of the Cave Bear, Shining Through, The Nun's Story, Cloud Atlas, and The Color of Light. I still enjoy all of these books, and at one time or another have loved them for a wide range of reasons.  But I just finished rereading Christopher Moore's Fool, and I think that if you made me pick today, my drop-dead, desert-island choice would be Pocket, Drool, Kent, Cordelia, mad King Lear, and the ghost (there's always a bloody ghost).

My original review was short and didn't say much besides how worried I'd been that I wouldn't like it. It's a crazy book, a fast-moving romp, full of vivid, disgusting imagery (mostly involving the genitalia of animals), wild coincidence, and lots of dirty sex.  I could see an argument to be made about there not being enough female characters, though I disagree--given the source material the women get their parts, and each one--from Shanker Mary the laundress to Bubble the cook to Rosemary the witch--is a separate character with an internal life, and if men spend a lot of time ogling them, they react differently and have their own feelings about it. 

Even Regan and Goneril are very different nasty pieces of work.  This read through, I was able to follow the action a little more carefully, and it was interesting to notice how much of the unpleasantness Pocket actually puts in motion himself, and how his motivations start and change.  There is a "sex scene" (the sex is offscreen) that could be problematic--probably is--but given the context, it didn't bother me at all.

Anyway, I'm trying to acknowledge the problems and holes (things like coincidences contrived by ghosts and witches, and motivations that change without changing the action) to acknowledge that it's probably not perfect, but I didn't notice that while I was reading it.  I loved Pocket's Vorkosigan-like ability to have a plan ready and to talk anyone into anything.  I loved his affection and protection of Drool, and Cordelia, and the Anchoress.  I loved that a lot of people have a lot of sex and that it's treated so lightly.  I loved Kent's loyalty.

And I think the part of this book that had me thinking, that gave it a real core that got at something interesting, was Lear himself.  Because not enough stories face up to ugly contradictions in a way that I find emotionally satisfying, and I feel like this one does.  I don't honestly remember how much of the detail of Lear's character--the backstory from his reign--come from the original Shakespeare and how much Moore looked up and how much he fabricated.  But Lear is simultaneously a great king who led his country well; a traitorous jerk who killed people for his political ends; a jealous, power-hungry despot who destroyed lives on out of pique or on a whim; a loving father who would wants his daughters' happiness above anything at all; a protective lord to Pocket himself. 

Pocket has to face all these Lears at once and to reconcile them.  He's lucky time and William Shakespeare made most of the decisions for him.

And the end!  Let's just say that a traditional tragedy is perhaps over-tragic, and that what it really needs is a happy ending.  Best. Ending. Ever.

So: if you ask me this week what my favorite book is, I have an answer for you.  Huh; how about that?

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