by Christopher Moore
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Christopher Moore’s previous novels have all been humorous contemporary novels. His newest novel, Lamb is a departure in many ways from earlier fare such as Island of the Sequined Love Nun and The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and not just because the title is so much shorter. In fact, the book’s descriptive subtitle is more akin to the titles of earlier books and gives the reader an excellent idea of what the book will be like. The subtitle is The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.
One of the difficulties with the four Gospels which are included in the New Testament is that from birth to the beginning of his ministry, practically nothing is said about the life of Jesus. Moore has decided to rectify this lack by having Levi bar Alphaeus, also called Biff, write about his adventures with Jesus from the age of six, when he saw a strange kid bringing lizards back to life, until the Crucifixion.
While Jesus is a reasonably serious child attempting to come to terms with both his adolescence and being the Messiah, he is accompanied by his best fried, Biff, whose irreverence saturates the page as he lies, cheats, tries to teach Jesus about the sins Jesus may not experience firsthand and watches over his increasingly unworldly friend.
Moore not only fills in the blanks of Jesus’ childhood, but also reintroduces the magi who visited Nazareth upon Jesus’ birth. Making use of apocryphal tales of Jesus’ travels in the East, Moore has Jesus and Biff visit a monastery in modern day Afghanistan to learn the secrets of the Tao from Balthezar, continue to China where they learn the ways of the Buddha from Gaspar and finally journey to India to learn Hindu mysticism from Melchoir. Along the way, Jesus learns the philosophies he will bring back to his homeland and rejects aspects which do not seem to fit. He will also have his first taste of bacon.
Over the course of the novel, Moore reveals the minor secrets of Jesus’ ministry (how and why he walked on water) as well as the major ones (what the H. stands for in Jesus H. Christ). He also humanizes several of the characters, including Jesus and Mary Magdalene. His depictions of the various disciples is more caricaturistic, but anyone who will be annoyed with his depiction of, for instance, Bartholemew, probably will not enjoy the book enough to make it to the end.
At times, it seems as if Moore has spent a little too much time watching “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” while he was writing Lamb, however despite some similarities, Moore’s humor and version of the events of Jesus’ life are different, although they will appeal to the same audience. It is extremely tempting to share some of the more humorous lines from Lamb, but doing so would be a disservice to both author and reader.
Although all of Moore’s novels are humorous, Lamb is his most ambitious work to date and is possibly the funniest work Moore has published. It has the additional distinction of being more philosophical than his earlier books, possibly because of the topic Moore has decided to lampoon. For all his depiction of Jesus and the disciples, Moore’s humor never stoops to being mean-spirited. It is clear that he is taking religion seriously and, rather than attack religion, demonstrates that the evils which Jesus preached against are very much apparent in modern society.
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