Rating: 2 Stars
I usually like Christopher Moore. I especially enjoyed A Dirty Job and Fool. I had reasonably high hopes for Lamb, but was worried that the subject matter wouldn’t really be a good fit for his style.
It turns out, in my opinion, that I was correct. This is the story of Jesus (or Joshua, as he’s consistently called here), as told by his best friend Levi (nicknamed Biff). The plot is that Biff has been resurrected to write a true account of Joshua’s life, since the Gospel accounts only barely cover his birth and then the last years of his life. Biff was at Joshua’s side his entire life, so is uniquely qualified to write the account.
So, let’s start with the name, Biff. That probably should have been a signal to me from the beginning. Despite an afterword in which Moore talks about the amount of research that went into writing this book, which would kind of lend itself to a belief that Moore was going to try to do something at least semi-meaningful with this knowledge, the fact that he chose Biff as the name of Joshua’s sidekick is a pretty good clue that this is going to be a sophomoric effort.
It turns out that, during those missing years, Joshua and Biff went on an epic voyage, where they spent years studying with a magician, a Buddhist, and a Hindi guru. He learned all of the best bits from each and synthesized them with his own Jewish learnings to create effectively a new religion.
After this adventure, he comes back to Judea, where it pretty much picks up with what we know: preaching, healing miracles, gathering apostles, and ultimately arrest, trial, conviction, death, and resurrection.
It’s kind of a clever concept, but it’s just so simply done. The humor is broad. Joshua’s learning from each master has the subtly of an ax to the head. I’ve just read a history of comedy, and the book reads like nothing more than a vaudeville routine.
It was probably a vain hope, but I was really hoping for a more humorously nuanced view of how Joshua came to his teachings and came to reconcile himself with his destiny. Instead we end up with silliness like Joshua / Biff discovering putting milk in coffee and inventing the pencil.
I get that Moore tends towards the sophomoric. For instance, Fool is the story of Lear, from the point of view of, well, the fool. And yes, it was pretty obvious and simplistic. However, in the play itself, the fool is simplistic with a rapier wit. Therefore, the broadness actually plays well here.
And, Shakespeare is not religion. It’s not so much that making fun of religion in a sophomoric way is not a good idea (see Life of Brian), but here the humor is just off. The book just seems like it was written by a snotty twenty-one year old who’s just discovered that he’s an atheist.