Friday, August 27, 2010


I just finished a fabulous book, Lamb by Christopher Moore. It was so good that I had to restrain myself from putting all his other books on hold at the library (school is about to start and I already have thirty books checked out--teachers can get a special library card that allows them to renew stuff over and over and over and over and over if there's no hold on the book).

I seem to be one of the few people who hadn't heard of Lamb until recently. Rachel loaned it to me saying, "You have to read this." Emily was talking about it and saying how great it was. So two good recommendations by smart thoughtful people with complementary senses of humor--I went for it, as unappealing as it seemed.

Lamb is the story of Christ's life, told from the point of view of his childhood friend Levi, known as Biff. Biff is brought back to life in modern times, taken to a hotel room by an angel, and told to write the story of Christ as he knew it. The irritating angel guards him closely, not letting him leave the room, watching soap operas on TV while Biff writes.

Biff finds a Bible in a drawer (thanks, Gideons!) and sneaks it into the bathroom, where he reads the gospels and is irritated--by their inaccuracy, by the huge gap of time left out,* and by the omission of his own self and his importance to the story. (There is a Levi in the New Testament, a follower of Christ, but he is a very minor character.)

In the course of the story, during those missing years, Levi a.k.a. Biff and Joshua ("By the way, his name was Joshua. Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yeshua, which is Joshua. Christ is not a last name. It's the Greek for messiah, a Hebrew word meaning anointed.") go looking for the three wise men. They find the first one in Afghanistan just outside Kabul, the second in China, and the third in India. They spend years with each man, studying Buddhism, kung fu, and yoga, among other things. Biff also learns about sex, from various concubines and prostitutes and the Kama Sutra, knowledge he shares with Joshua, who is celibate at his fahter's request. After many years away from home, traveling, they bring their Divine Spark thing back to Jerusalem and turn it into the Holy Ghost. (I think I understand the Holy Ghost a lot better now, actually. Thanks, Christopher Moore.) Then Jesus starts preaching, gathering followers, and doing the stuff we all know about from the bible.

There were many things I loved about this book: how much research Moore clearly did, for one thing. But I also loved the references, most of which I'm sure I missed. But they celebrate Jesus' birthday "with the traditional Chinese food," and even Hans Christian Andersen makes a guest appearance, when a demon they meet outside Kabul has "dinner-plate-sized cat's eyes," just like one of those dogs in "The Magic Tinder Box." Appropriate in what could be viewed as one of the greatest and most enduring fairytales our world has seen.

I love that Joshua has a sense of humor, even laughing so hard at one point that he sprays tea out his nose. In his afterword, Moore notes, "It's more than a small anachronism that I portray Joshua having and making fun, yet somehow, I like to think that while he carried out his sacred mission, Jesus of Nazareth might have enjoyed a sense of irony and the company of a wisecracking buddy. This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone's faith; however, if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do." His "Author's Blessing" at the beginning also reinforces this so nicely:
If you have come to these pages for laughter, may you find it.
If you are here to be offended, may your ire rise and your blood boil.
If you seek an adventure, may this song sing you away to blissful escape.
If you need to test or confirm your beliefs, may you reach comfortable conclusions.
All books reveal perfection, by what they are or what they are not.
May you find that which you seek, in these pages or outside them.
May you find perfection, and know it by name.
I think this really illustrates what a thoughtful book Lamb manages to be. While managing to be funny.

And Moore does right by Mary Magdalene. As he notes in the afterword, it doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that she was a prostitute: "No whore references, period." She's an important, thoughtful, well-drawn character in the book, smart and interesting and convincing.

There are too many apostles to keep straight, which is the same problem I'm having in my novel about the fourteen daughters of Ed. But that's not Moore's fault, and since the apostles don't even start to show up until the last fourth of this novel, it's not the biggest problem. I can see how any more focus on them would derail things.

So yeah. I liked this book so much. Do unto others..., and all that.

*As Moore notes in his afterword, "Of the time from Jesus' birth to when he began his ministry in his thirties, the Bible gives us only one scene," which is Luke 2:46-7, Jesus at the age of twelve "in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers."

1 comment:

ehefty said...

I'm glad you liked it! When you get around to reading Moore's other books you'll find that each is wacky and wonderful and has something to do with seeking the divine and figuring out how to live life in a world that's very confusing but ultimately a good place to be. "A Dirty Job" and "The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove" are probably my next two favorites after "Lamb".