Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard

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Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Lazarus - yes, him from the bible - can claim Jesus as a childhood friend. But as Lazarus's health takes a roller-coaster ride, their adult friendship is severely tested.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Harvill Secker
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846555060

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The title certainly got my attention and when I read that Beard is the Director of the National Academy of Writing, London I was expecting great things from him. I'm also thinking in the very next breath how audacious to write a fictional book about a towering biblical character but then, many have done just that. Will he pull it off though?

And I'm struck straight away by the effective voice of Beard. Like most men in their early thirties, Lazarus has plans that don't involve dying is just one very good example. This is a style that I really enjoy. I'll sum it up very generally by saying: subject matter stupendous, narrative style matter-of-fact but one hundred per cent effective. But I'm also thinking - will I actually like this book given its (dry) biblical/religious slant. Time to find out.

Beard does a wonderful 10-second summation of his book in the very first paragraph which reads Lazarus is dead ... He died, he came back to life, but then he died again. And this is the tone and style adopted throughout. I found it to be both charming and original.

Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary live a fairly simple, uncomplicated life in Bethany, near Jerusalem. Life seems good at the moment. Lazarus's business is flourishing and the women make domestic life run smoothly as they deal with all the tiresome chores such as cleaning and cooking. Lazarus is still unmarried but that may be about to change.

Jesus is mentioned very early on in the novel. He's crucial to the story (and I can't believe I just wrote that line, I seem to have adopted Beard-speak). There are various quotes from the bible dotted about where relevant or to underline a particular point or even for further reading. Tellingly, as I read it, Joseph and Mary, parents of Jesus could be callous, even cruel and unfeeling when it comes to matters of family. At one point they flee for their safety. Others are not so lucky.

As Beard narrates the story (a story familiar with many I appreciate) in his glorious style we get closer and closer to the 'main event'. Lazarus's physical health is deteriorating on a daily basis. Both men are in their prime. But while Jesus goes from strength to strength (although it has to be said that he doesn't always succeed) his once good friend is at death's door. Jesus and his miracles have now caught the attention of the local people and Beard narrates some of them terrifically. There are fantastic lines such as The man was a long time in the desert. He doesn't talk much sense.

Beard tells about the decline and rise and decline of Lazarus with wit and charm. I was blown away by Beard's delivery and creativity. I haven't read a book quite like it in a long time. So good it's almost off the scale for me. Brave, brilliant and utterly readable. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try My Name Was Judas by C K Stead. We've also enjoyed Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard.

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