#CBR4 Maneuver #13 – Lamb

Target: Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. 

Profile: Comic Fantasy, Absurdist Literature, Religious Fiction?

Summary: From the Back Cover, “The Birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years – except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story in this divinely hilarious yet heartfelt work.

Verily, the story that Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healing, kung fu, corpse, demons and hot babes.  Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior’s pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny.  But there’s no one who love Josh more – except maybe ‘Maggie,’ Mary of Magdala – and Biff isn’t about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.”

After Action Report:

There’s something to be said about going into a book expecting to hate it.  A little bias can make a mediocre story somewhat enjoyable, or a good book seem great.  Christopher Moore should thank his publicists for being moronic idiots.  The cover of Lamb is positively coated in critic reviews hailing him as the new voice of comic absurdism; the second coming of Vonnegut.  But all you have to do is read the back cover to see that the comparison is inapt at best.  So I went into Lamb prepared to hate every stagnant syllable.  Let’s be clear.  It’s not Vonnegut by any stretch of the imagination.  But it isn’t bad.

Lamb is the story of Levi bar Alphaeus of Nazareth called Biff, a somewhat smarter than average Roman Jew who had the dubious fortune of being childhood friends of the Messiah.  As a set ups go, this one isn’t bad.  The thirty years between the birth of Christ and the beginning of the Synoptic Gospels is a pretty interesting time historically and the Bible just glosses it out of existence.  When you reach the conclusion that many scholars have come to, that even the birth of Joshua is an adapted parable of the hero Mithras, we come out knowing nothing about these formative years.

Moore approaches the sensitive religious material with a combination of reverence and dirty jokes.  The humor isn’t exactly interesting, but it isn’t in bad taste and might elicit a chuckle or two.  The religious philosophy is intriguing.  Moore has the young Jesus visit the mystics of the East, learning Daoism, Buddhism, and Hindu Asceticism before returning to Israel with his message of the universal spirit, forgiveness and kindness.  Moore’s take is most interesting because of the way it places Joshua at odds with Judaic scripture and holy law.  By extension, this version of the Christ is at odds with himself for much of the book, conflicted by the wisdom he has gained and the indoctrination of his past.

Biff takes on the role of protector and, more importantly, grounding force, keeping ‘Josh’ safe from a hostile world and his own detachment from reality.  Unfortunately, most of the grounding takes the form of somewhat base jokes and an ongoing buddy cop style routine.  There’s just nothing new here.  Mel Brooks made all these jokes in History of the World Part 1 and he had to have real comic timing.  I’m not saying that this book shouldn’t have been a comedy, – it wouldn’t have worked as well if Moore had tried to play it straight – but if you’re going to make fun of early Christianity, at least come up with some new material.  Or some jokes that don’t use sex as the punch line.

I can kind of see how someone could mistake the acerbic brilliance of Kurt Vonnegut for Moore’s tongue-in-cheek baud.  You know… if they were brain dead.  Or in high school.  The book might as well be written for teenagers.  It’s got that simplistic approach to comedy and thinking that appeals to that demographic.  Not that there’s anything wrong with targeting that group.  But that anyone could even conjure up Vonnegut, or Douglass Adams in comparison is an insult to those giants of comic absurdism.  There’s a difference between comedy of the absurd that juxtaposes the improbable, and absurdist literature that challenges the way we look at the constructs of our lives.  Vonnegut didn’t write Cat’s Cradle to be funny.  He wrote it to satirize the world arms race, national pride and America’s blind faith in our own superiority.  That it is funny is a symptom of the cognitive dissonance between the portrayal of these concepts and our experience of them.

Moore doesn’t even hold up to his contemporaries, like Tom Holt or Mr. Pratchett himself.  Ultimately, he’s just a pale imitator of the genre.  I’m told some of his other books hang together better than Lamb, but despite enjoying it more than I thought I would, I can’t help but think I’d rather be out there hunting down something really good, than sitting here with a book I can’t help but consider second rate.  Reading should never be a chore.  For those of you who have read Moore and enjoyed him, I’m not trying to insult or impair your enjoyment.  I’ll just recommend you check out the above authors and see what you think.  If you haven’t read Moore, Lamb isn’t a bad book and there are a few interesting ideas.  There’s just not enough there for me to really endorse it.

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Posted on April 13, 2012, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’m disappointed to hear the book wasn’t very good. It was recommended to me by a friend and I’m actually next on the hold list for it at the library.

    I’m in the middle of reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, so it should be an interesting juxtaposition. Or it might all end in tears.

    • I wouldn’t automatically assume that because I didn’t enjoy the book that you wouldn’t. Where’s a disclaimer when you need one?

      My dislike for the Lamb comes from a very specific place: my love of absurdism. I had a really long and interesting conversation with a high school teacher last weekend about the merits of Moore’s most recent novel, Sacré Bleu. He made some really good points, namely that my desire for comedy that challenges the status quo isn’t the reason most people read humorous novels. Now, I’m not going to change my review. This is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

      But there really should be a disclaimer somewhere here… “Warning, the reviews you are about to read are the opinions of an would-be-intellectual. As such, you may need to discard them for being written by a prat.”

  1. Pingback: Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #13: Lamb by Christopher Moore « Cannonball Read IV

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