Review: The Serpent of Venice

Lovely readers, I am the worst at finishing the Chronicles of Narnia. Just the worst. I’m finding excuses, and looking deliberately for other books instead. I need to just will my way through the last two, which I’m positive are not going to be bad like I’m imagining. Sigh. I’m trying – I promise. (Also, I am trying re: those longer posts I mentioned last time. They’re in the works).

HOWEVER, I am reading. And i just finished reading a doozy of a book. Have you ever picked up a book because it had a fun cover and you liked the blurb on the front so you bought it? Well, that’s what I did recently. Something I’m not sure I’ve touched on here yet: I love Edgar Allan Poe. LOVE. His stories are so incredible. I’ve owned multiple versions over the years of his complete works. His poetry is also incredible. Annabelle Lee is one of my all time favorite poems. Cliche? Maybe, but still one of my favorites nonetheless. I also really love Shakespeare. It’s possible that’s just ingrained as an English major – is it possible to study English Lit and the language and not love the Bard? I don’t really know.

So there I was, in Barnes & Noble, just browsing as I do, when I come across a book with a jester in a gondola, titled The Serpent of Venice. Obviously, I was immediately drawn in. BUT THEN. The blurb read: “Shakespeare and Poe might be rolling in their graves, but they’re rolling with laughter. Moore is one of the cleverest, naughtiest writers alive.” SO OBVIOUSLY I PICKED IT UP. The back then laid the plot: A combination of The Merchant of Venice and Othello. AKA TWO OF MY FAVORITE SHAKESPEARE PLAYS. I wasn’t sure how Poe played into it, but I didn’t really care. The book was in my hand and was not leaving it except for being scanned and given back to me in a bag.

-image from goodreads

Lovely readers, let me tell you, this book did not disappoint.

REVIEW: The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore
Published: 2014
Length: 316

Plot: Three distinguished Venitians – a merchant, a soldier, and a senator – are awaiting their less than distinguished dinner guest – the fool, Pocket. He thinks he’s about to have a “spirited” evening, complete with Amontillado (and here’s the Poe…). But alas! Their invitation has sinister intentions, and the three men (Antonio, Iago, and Brabantio) have something not very fun planned for the fool. But their plan (unknowingly, to them) goes awry, and the adventure begins. Virtually every important character from TMOV and Othello play a part. There’s also a narrator (chorus), a monkey, a sea serpent, and a ghost “(there’s always a bloody ghost).”

Most Memorable Line(s): “This is why we send youth to war: spotty lads possessed of passion but void of purpose will cleave to the most slippery species of bullshit.”
– In such a funny, lighthearted, satirical book I was taken aback at first by such a straightforward comment. I devoured this book, but this line truly made me stop for a second because I was so shocked/impacted by it.

What I liked: Virtually everything! Like I mentioned earlier, these are two of my favorite plays. They’re entwined with a really genius use of a Poe story (The Cask of Amontillado) that, if I’m being honest, was forgettable to me – even though I know I’ve read it at some point. Moore manages to highlight all of the best and worst things from Shakespeare’s two plays. He doesn’t shy away (no pun intended) from the really despicable treatment we see of Shylock in TMOV, and really switches up the way we as readers are meant to feel about him. Moore switches up POV throughout the book – telling Pocket’s story from a first person perspective, allowing us into his head but having us see the thoughts of others in a third person way. It was strange when it started, but it really worked. The way Moore weaves these stories together is really impressive. It’s truly seamless. Brabantio, in this story, is the father of both Desdemona and Portia, and it’s that bit that really allows the rest of the combination to flourish. He’s also incredibly witty. Reading Shakespeare in “contemporary” times can be difficult for people. Moore, clearly aware of that, acknowledges all of those issues in clever ways throughout the story. Honestly, this is a rambling of what I enjoyed, because I enjoyed all of it. This book was fun to read. Full stop.

What I didn’t like: The only thing that was slightly ehhhhh to me was the excessive use of vulgarity. I don’t mind vulgarity, but there’s a point where I feel being vulgar for vulgarity’s sake takes away from the rest of the impeccable writing and plot of a novel. I’m not sure The Serpent of Venice reached that tipping point, but it came close at some moments.

Fun Fact: THIS BOOK IS ACTUALLY A SEQUEL! I had no idea until I was already reading it. While I may have benefited from already knowing Pocket and his story before he reached Venice, this book had such a strong stand alone plot that I in no way at any time felt I was missing key information. The original book about Pocket is called Fool.

Grade: 9/10…For just the slightly excessive use of vulgarity – which certainly won’t stop me from seeking out Fool, and any other Christopher Moore book, very soon. Truly a must read for fans of Shakespeare, I think.

Actually, if I’m being honest, this might be the best book I’ve read all year. I’ve read some really great books so far in 2015 on this journey, but I have [already] recommended this book to almost every book person I know in my life. So I’d open that last bit up to a must read for all.


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