Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Christopher Moore possesses the special gift of having a unique sense of comedy, one he put on full display in his Fool Series. In the third book, titled Shakespeare for Squirrels, we follow Pocket as he manages to anger a Greek Duke who orders his death. Upon his escape he meets the fairy king, who promises to save him from the Duke, on the condition he solves the murder of a mischievous sprite.
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Christopher Moore Explores a New Shakespearean Realm
In the relatively sombre reality the end of 2020 carries with it, humour has been in shorter supply than usual, though I would argue it’s more necessary now than when the apocalypse began. Thankfully, authors such as Christopher Moore haven’t dropped the quill of comedy, and in his third novel of the Fool Series, titled Shakespeare for Squirrels, he takes us on a ride to Shakespearean Athens.
Though this is the third book in the Fool Series, it can very easily work as a standalone if you feel like starting here. However, I do recommend you have a look at the first two books as well, Fool and The Serpent of Venice, for they are inventive and high-quality works in their own right. If nothing else, it will give you two more excellent dark humour novels to add to your collection.
Anyhow, returning from our detour, our novel begins with Pocket of Dog Snogging washing up on the shores of Greece after having been set adrift by his own pirate crew. He hopes to dazzle the local Duke with his comedic prowess and enter his service as a jester. However, the Duke is preoccupied with an impending wedding where his daughter isn’t marrying the man he wants her to.
After the Duke posed an ultimatum to his daughter, Pocket made it known what he thought of it, earning him a death sentence from the local despot. He flees to the woodland realm of the fairy king Oberon, and as luck would have it for Pocket, the former’s jester has just been murdered. His name was Robin Goodfellow, and he was a mischievous sprite too many had a motive to kill.
The powerful hold nothing but contempt for those who toady to them, all but the toadies know this.― Christopher Moore, Shakespeare for Squirrels
Nevertheless, this is the mystery Pocket finds himself thrust in, after Oberon promises to make him his jester if he can find Robin’s killer. With very little time to work with, too many suspects, and the Duke’s men closing in on him, Pocket will have to race faster than ever before, with both mind and body, to save his skin on yet another adventure into madness.
The Structured Insanity of Shakespeare for Squirrels
For those of you who are familiar with Christopher Moore and his writings, I can say you’re probably well-prepared to predict the kind of structure you’ll find in this book. Which is to say, like the rest of the entries into this series, the structure is more of a vague suggestion rather than any kind of actual guideline.
Moore doesn’t stick to any classic notions or mathematically-outlined plan of development for the events and characters in his story. On the contrary, it almost feels as if he himself is writing the story as you’re reading it. There are times when we have the impression true randomness and unpredictability take over, with events seemingly transpiring from nothing and out nowhere.
However, much of this effect is an illusion created by the author’s refusal to follow classical guidelines. Many elements which at first seem random and out of place stop being so when we take the time to think about them, or they transform into payoffs later in the story. Because we don’t have the full picture until we finish Shakespeare for Squirrels, many of the things we see feel disconnected from it for a while.
I should also point out how Moore‘s brand of madness is rather calculated, at least behind the scenes. He doesn’t literally throw any random event or person into his story for the sake of it. Instead, he does a fantastic job at giving everything meaning and purpose, even the small details which seem destined to be bereft of them.
You are a disappointment to disappointments.― Christopher Moore, Shakespeare for Squirrels
As a result of this storytelling method, we have a plot which feels like it moves very quickly without any padding or dead zones between the important events. In turn, this makes it easy to become engrossed in the world and its people from start to finish, and after a while, mostly forgetting how illogical certain things appear to be.
Of Magic and Murder
Moving onward and examining the actual story, what we have here is primarily a murder mystery, perhaps even a whodunit, if we’re willing to stretch the boundaries of the genre a little bit. While the whole plot surrounding the Duke does play an important role, it’s more akin to a setup than anything else, one which launches Pocket on the real adventure.
If there’s one thing this mystery doesn’t lack for, it’s the amount of plausible suspects we have to contend with. Moore takes great care in presenting them to us in a relatively balanced manner, meaning he tries to show the good and the bad within them, rather than trying to paint them as something specific. Ultimately, each suspect is as likely as the next one to have done it.
On the front of being able to solve the mystery from the reader’s perspective, I’ll have to disappoint you; chances are only a lucky guess will bring you to the correct resolution. However, for a novel of this kind where it’s much more about the adventure of solving the murder than finding its resolution, I think it’s a perfectly acceptable “flaw” to have, if we can even call it such.
Pocket makes for an enjoyable protagonist to follow on his quest, which takes us through some magical layers of Moore‘s world as well, also adorned with the author’s very particular brand of humour. He (generally) doesn’t use the magical elements as a deus ex machina, but rather as elements used to enhance the ridiculous nature of the twisted Shakespearean world he created.
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Speaking of which, I suppose it is necessary to mention this as being a parody of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare, but I can guarantee you don’t need to be acquainted with the classic author nor any of his works to enjoy this. It’s simply those who do will notice a few clever references and couplets which are certain to bring about some warm smiles.
The Final Verdict
Shakespeare for Squirrels by Christopher Moore is a fantastic addition to the Fool Series, continuing Pocket’s amazing saga through a twisted and seemingly directionless Shakespearean universe. Everything from the structure, characters and the murder mystery itself all come together to form a brilliant work of dark humour and parody, one capable of bringing us true laughter.
If you’re looking for a lighter type of book with a unique and excellent sense of humour, and/or have read and enjoyed the previous books, then I strongly suggest you give the third book of the Fool Series a shot.