This is my second Christopher Moore novel, the first being Fool. I'm still getting a handle on Moore's style and how to gauge him, but I don't think I'm off when I say that Fluke is not one of his better works. Sure, it has that distinctive sense of zaniness that any Moore fan comes to expect; you won't be disappointed if you read this book. Yet neither the story nor the characters are as entertaining as Fool's. The jokes are there, but they're less cohesive; they're funny moments that fail to form up into a single, hilarious book.
Not sure how to review this one. It's not as deliciously quotable as Fool was, so I can't just string together a bunch of quotations, call them witty, and try to pass that off as a review. Nope, I actually have to talk about the plot. You have been warned.
The plot of Fluke develops slowly, giving you time to grow accustomed to the persnickety research team and its supporting cast. It doesn't really jumpstart until Nate gets swallowed by a whale (literally), at which point the whale semen hits the Zodiac raft and the story goes into overdrive. There's a definite need for suspension of disbelief, as Moore strays over the boundary of improbable to implausible. But it's hard not to be seduced by the mystery Moore manifests. Who built the whale ships? Are the whale-men a result of natural evolution, or were they created by someone or something? What's up with the requests for pastrami on rye? Will Nate hook up with Amy?
The actual answers to most of those questions didn't live up to my expectations. Nate's life post-swallowing is confusing, ill-explained, and not all that funny. There are some interesting ideas thrown about relating to genes, memes, and evolution, but even these are far from well-developed. The quality of Fluke is heavily weighted to the beginning of the book, for it's there that Moore creates a very real (if not realistic), well-established world of characters and relationships.
The latter part of the book is still funny, but everything feels underdeveloped, rushed toward an artificial ending. For instance, Nate and Amy develop a relationship but face an obstacle in their relative ages and Amy's unique condition. Normally, starcrossed lovers is a tragedy . . . but I didn't really care. The blasé, lackadaisical attitude that makes Moore such a good humourist doesn't, in this case, lend itself well to character development and pathos. Nate just resorts to drinking or the casual nihilistic embrace of sleep once too often for me to care about what happens to him.
I'm not sure what it takes to wake up one day and decide to write a novel about cetacean biology. Fluke's premise is somewhat inspired and original. There are certainly predictable aspects of this book (I figured out what Amy's role was long before it's revealed), but the plot has enough twists to keep you guessing. Pastrami sandwiches that seem like throwaway lines become pivotal. Big mysteries turn out to have small answers. It may be a cliché, but nothing is what it seems in Fluke, and there is much hilarity to be had.