Lamb by Christopher Moore
|Lamb by Christopher Moore|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: Irreverent hilarity following a re-take on the life of Christ as it might have been. Mary Magdalene is rehabilitated as the smart gal she must have been, the disciples, parents, brothers and sisters of all the key characters get their due recognition in this witty and intelligent tale. Even some of the Romans come over as good guys.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 512||Date: August 2007|
Sometime in the early years of the 21st century the Angel Raziel is sent back dirtside. It's a bit soon, he feels, after his last trip 2000 years ago, but then he did muck that one up slightly so maybe it's punishment duty. Either way, orders are orders...
... and so on a barren hillside outside of Jerusalem, the Angel Raziel conjures up a tower of dust, which swirls itself back into the living form of the long-dead Biff. As resurrections go... it doesn't seem to have had much of a press. Biff, of course, is a bit confused by the summons... but he's used to not getting the publicity.
Levi, who is called Biff, in the usual confusing manner of such chronicles, was the childhood friend of one Joshua of Nazareth (who will be called Jesus - Greek translation apparently, and they got the publishing deal, so there you go).
He appears to have been edited out of the official version and has now been brought back to life to write the missing book... to tell it as it really was. More than just the name has been lost in translation, he tells us.
If the book cover is to be believed then the working title of Biff's gospel is It Wasn't Quite Like That. It could just as easily have been called: Life of Brian - the Early Years.
It is that irreverent, that subtle, that funny.
Which basically means that if the Pythons offended you, you really shouldn't pick up this book. If you're one of those who recently voted Life of Brian the funniest film ever, in the Observer poll, you will love it.
It must be said that Moore is an equal opportunities offender. It isn't only the Jews and the Christians who have their faith twisted and mocked... there are also the Romans, the Buddhists, the Hindus, Taoists, Confucians... basically every religion going at the time. But the mockery is gentle, and I have to agree with the author's note that "if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do." It's sad that Moore feels the need to have to make this point. In his afterword he repeatedly defends himself: I'm just telling stories, this is just a bit of fun.
Of course it's just a bit of fun. It's all made up. But then I'm a non-believer, and the Christians and Jews might claim that the bits taken directly from the Bible weren't made up, or mussed-with in translation, but are absolutely as written. Maybe.
You get the point.
Let's get back to Biff.
Biff is the son of a stonemason... and Joshua is the son of God and of Mary, step-son (or something) to Joseph a carpenter in Nazareth. They become best buddies. United among others things by their common unrequited adoration of the young Mary of Magdala. In the usual way of things: Biff is in love with Mary, Mary is in love with Josh, Josh has been told by the angels that he can never know a woman, which is the kind of thing you take on trust if you are the son of God (although you might raise a few objections with the old man in private).
Together they start work... and start to get into the sort of scrapes that will eventually lead one of them to heal and be hung and the other to... well, that would spoil the ending.
The main point about Biff's gospel is to fill in the gaps. What, exactly, happened between the birth and that bit in the temple when he was 12... and then there's another 18 years missing before he's back in the public eye. We may have assumed all these years that the Nazarene was being a dutiful son, at home, sanding the planks and whittling the whatsits... and thinking about what was wrong with the world.
The alternative view, which is essence is perfectly plausible, is that he was out exploring the world and learning how other people, other faiths, had tried (and to some large extent failed) to put it right. Thus, for specific reasons which become clear, Biff accompanies Josh on his quest to find the three wise men that attended his birth, to learn of their wisdom.
The travels take them to the East, to the heart of Buddhism and Hinduism, the Tao and Confucius. They learn meditation and the art of mind over matter. Of course, there are also small matters of learning Jew-do, and teaching elephants yoga, of being poisoned and painted blue, of learning the ways of the camel (not pleasant at either end). There are demons to be fought and soldiers... and the sad plight of the last yeti. There are beautiful women and years of asceticism. The Kama Sutra, and Feng Shui, and being ambushed by marauding hoards. Throughout it all, there is Josh being kind and thoughtful, compassionate and studious, albeit slightly peeved with having a father who won't answer a simple question. Good job he has the selfish, sneaky, fun-loving, but ultimately Josh-loving Biff to look out for him.
As ever with Moore, the silliness is taken to the ultimate extreme - purely as a smokescreen to hide the possibility of truth in his ideas. Can you imagine the Virgin Mary as a typical Jewish matriarch? And really... if you had turned all that water into wine, you probably would need to make sure it tasted ok? Perhaps its true that times were not easy for the Jews under the Roman yoke... but kids would have been kids, and the games and pranks do not change that much over the centuries. People would have eaten and drunk and fallen in love with the wrong people and laughed and cried. Facts are played with and teased into unrealistic shapes to make us smile... but also to make us think and question. He might go to extreme lengths to do it, but Moore successfully gets across the idea that if these people really walked the planet, then they were really people and would have felt much as we do. He humanises them.
To the extent that - unlike the Pythons - he doesn't play the crucifixion scene for laughs. He actually manages among all the frivolity to make you care, not so much about the death of this chap, whose very precise torture you've been brought up on, but about the people who would have watched... or discovered they couldn't bear to.
And the lengths they would go to, to try to change the will of God.
Clever that. Moving, even.
But mostly, the book is just delightfully silly. Pythonesque. Pratchettian. That it explains the Easter Bunny and why blondes are thought to be dumb are mere by-products.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.
You might also like the earlier Moore offering Dirty Job which is in much the same vein or try Pratchett's Mort. For a more serious retelling of the story you might enjoy My Name Was Judas by C K Stead.
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