Christopher Moore Stirs the Cauldron
We might not exactly know when the concept of comedy became a tangible thing for the human race, I believe it’s safe to say it’s about as old as laughter itself. Over the many steps we’ve taken in our evolution as a species, comedy has grown immensely in terms of importance, to the point where we react with laughter even to many situations which aren’t comical. The idea of funny is so deeply-ingrained in us at this point, it doesn’t even need to be taught anymore. As a result, our comedic ventures – whether conducted through books, movies or any sorts of artistic displays – have themselves grown in complexity, and I believe few exemplify this as well as Christopher Moore, author of famous Practical Demonkeeping. In his latest book, titled Noir, he returns to the fore once again to weave a grandiose comedic tapestry.
The plot itself, if it can really be called one, takes us to 1947 San Francisco where we meet a bartender, Sammy “Two-Shoes” who falls for a wise-cracking enigmatic blonde bombshell, Stilton. Before he can really get anything going though, an air force general bust into the bar and tasks him with a confidential mission. Both Sammy and Stilton are looking for ways to make some quick cash, and while Sammy buys a talking snake whose venom is made out to be like the Viagra of the 1940s, Stilton is hired by a five-star general to attend a secret retreat camp for the richest of the rich, hoping she might be his membership ticket. Meanwhile, a spaceship crashes down in Roswell and ends up in an ice machine, with nefarious forces on the prowl for it. Unfortunately for Sammy, his schemes go predictably bad, and what’s worse, Stilton seems to have vanished, plunging him head-first into dark secrets and strange occurrences he could have definitely lived without.
An Amalgam of Plots
For those of you familiar with the works of Christopher Moore, I believe you’ll know exactly what to expect in terms of story structure: an collection of different plots and sub-plots thrown in the same bag, some of them seemingly unrelated to each other. When reading this book for the pure comedic value of the current scene you’re at, it certainly fulfils its role splendidly, with virtually every line of dialogue and interaction having some sort of humour to it. However, if I were to put myself into the shoes of an average reader who isn’t familiar with the author’s works, I wager I’d have some trouble finding a thread to hang on to. In other words, the overarching story in this book feels a bit weaker than in Moore’s other stories, feeling less connected and overall more difficult to follow. If you are deciding on whether or not to read this book as an introduction to Moore’s capabilities, you may want to steel yourself for a more complicated than his other works would present.
With all of it being said, I believe this complexity and disjointedness also lends the book a certain charm and lightness; if actions and events don’t ultimately matter all too much, they can be taken in whichever direction the author chooses, an invaluable tool for proponents of the ridiculous. All the different plots we are treated to are quite original in their own rights, often tackling ages-old concepts and ideas from new angles, aiming to defy the expectations we’ve acquired from popular culture. I especially ended up taking a liking to the double narration going on, the first one being from Sammy’s first-person perspective, and the second from an omniscient mystery character who becomes revealed only later. While at first it got a bit confusing, especially when the narrations would switch inside the same chapter, later it became increasingly apparent it was there to allow us to witness the world and the story from a different perspective, ultimately to add more comedy into it.
If you look into Moore’s previous novels I believe a certain common thread emerges, and it’s the author’s tendency to put his characters at the forefront of the show, even with all the magnificent absurdities going on around them. Much to my content, he took the same approach with this book and ultimately made for some very memorable characters besides Sammy himself, such as his friend Milo whose defining trait is owning a taxi but not knowing how to drive. Peculiarity simply oozes from the people we come across one after the other, with them at times seeming more alien themselves than the actual alien who crashed in Roswell.
Through these characters we experience pretty much the full spectrum of emotions, even sadness finding a way to creep in there somehow. What’s more, as we jump from one person to the other we also get a taste of different literary genres, with there also being elements of romance, crime, mystery, science-fiction, horror, and of course, noir. We even delve into somewhat philosophical territory as a black mamba snake narrates a chapter for us and rationalizes all of the terrible deeds it has performed over the years. As a matter of fact, at times it becomes somewhat easy to forget about Sammy’s quest to find Stilton and anything else which might be at stake amidst all the colourful personalities we encounter. In my eyes, the supporting cast, so-to-speak, ended up stealing the show as the story got closer and closer to its denouement. If you enjoy watching a bunch of the oddest balls around bumble through existence, this story just might be your holy grail.
The Final Verdict
To drop the curtains on this review, I can safely Noir by Christopher Moore is a solid and entertaining work of original comedy up to the standards set by his other stories. While it might have a couple of weaknesses in terms of structure, they can definitely be overlooked for the unique story, laugh-out-loud humour and the weirdos seemingly hiding in every nook and cranny. If you’re a fan of Christopher Moore I highly recommend you give this novel a try. If this is your first time reading him, to be prepared for a narration you might take a bit of time to get used to.