I’ve been meaning to read this forever and finally got around to moving it up on my list. We all have those books we hear about that we just know we’ll like because of who recommended it to us or because of previous familiarity with the author or whatever. This was one of those for me. The problem was it came to my attention when I was in grad school and my reading was booked. Then I’ve been in this great book club for many years, but they had read it before I joined. So it was just a matter of finding the right time. Luckily, last month I’d already read the book club book and I was ahead in some other reading projects so I FINALLY got around to it.
It’s funny, the guy who originally set up our book club (and has since moved) cited his love of humor fiction as one of the reasons for the club. He felt like, given the choice, he’d read nothing but Tom Robbins and Christopher Moore and the like and wanted to break out of that rut. But of course not only did he have the group read Lamb, but actually weaseled Mr. Moore’s publicists into setting up a meeting with the author. So one month we read his then-newest book, A Dirty Job, and he visited our group at a local bookstore for the hour before his big Atlanta appearance.
That night our book club went from the usual six or seven members to about 30 or so. But it could have been 1 or 100; Christopher Moore was just as relaxed and funny as I’m sure he always is.
So onto Lamb, probably his best and best known work of fiction. The premise is an angel has resurrected Jesus of Nazarath’s childhood best friend to write another gospel because, as most everyone knows, while his birth and later life are chronicled in the New Testament, there’s a good thirty year gap.
The best friend is named Levi but everyone calls him Biff. And no one knew Jesus as “Jesus” back then. That’s a later translation from the Greek. He says a closer translation would be Joshua, so it’s the story of Biff and Josh’s childhood to adulthood.
If you like the idea of a hilarious and yet still very touching riff on this time period that is implausible and, profane and wonderful then this is the book for you. I haven’t had this much fun since Pratchett and Gaiman’s Good Omens.
But beyond the humor, there really is a quite touching story of friendship and love and loss and all of that. They both love Mary the Magdalene. She loves Joseph but can’t have him. She loves Levi too, but the triangle has too much baggage to let them be together. Plus, there’s the whole searching the land to figure out if he’s not only really the messiah, but what he should do and say as the messiah when he returns.
That’s probably my favorite part of the book. He decides to seek out the three wise men who came to see his birth. Each one teaches him not only different aspects of being the messiah, but different religious views he incorporates into his message. He learns about Lao Tzu, Confucianism, the Buddha, Hinduism and more. They even learn some kung fu from some mountain monks but since he never wants to hit anyone they adapt it for him and the new version, which emphasizes using an opponent’s attacks against them, comes to be known as Jew Do (judo) because that’s the only kind of kung fu the two Jews will do. This section of the novel gets more and more ridiculous. Moore is clearly using the 30-year gap to full comedic advantage. But it also makes a kind of sense that Joshua would have learned as much as he could from as many as he could since his Big Daddy never seemed to speak to him when asked.
Of course, in India when Joshua is learning from yogis in the mountains Biff heads into town to take private instruction in the Kama Sutra. They have an Odd Couple type of friendship. It comes in handy though when Joshua questions wise men about his message. He says, “Tell me how you think I should relate that message. And remember I’ll have to explain it to someone like Josh.”
A funny, human story for everyone. Well, everyone with a sense of humor anyway.