May 5, 2015

I Didn't See That Coming: Who Really Killed Judas and Other Surprises in Lamb by Christopher Moore

WARNING: The following post contains a review for Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. I read and reviewed this book as a participant of the C.S. Lewis Society at Rutgers University's Canterbury House. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Christian; nor have I read the entirety of the New Testament from start to finish. My previous knowledge of Christ's life, both as told in the Bible and historically, was limited to random passages, things I have heard friends say, movies and television miniseries. So, if you think you might be offended by this post, which is a review of a book that takes a satirical look at the possible life of Jesus from ages 0-30, I suggest you move on. If you decide to read on, I apologize for my lack of Jesus knowledge and my utter bewilderment at most of his life, factual or imagined. Spoilers to follow.

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I want to break down this review, which should be a quick one, to cover the six parts of Lamb, because I think that's the best way to do it.



Part I: The Boy

To me, the first part of the book is almost no different than any other coming-of-age story with supernatural elements. Boy meets new friend and becomes his best friend. Best friend has superpowers. Here are the crazy exploits they get up to. I wasn't truly impressed by this first part; even the hints at future romance/love triangle for Josh, Biff, and Maggie didn't really come from anything new.

Yes, of course it's not a new story and some might even call this the original love triangle, but I guess it didn't feel new or different to me, which is why I didn't guffaw or gasp when certain things happened. I guess I rate the first part a 1 on a scale of 1-5. I don't know that I have much more to say about it other than it provided few laughs and I was impatiently waiting to know more about YA Josh and Biff.

Part II: Change

This is where the book started to get good in my opinion. The currently-happening story gets funnier thanks to Biff's learning about our world (and other people's versions of the story is he trying to write) and the story-in-the-past has a change for the better. A cast of characters starts to weave it's way into the story and I always find adventure stories where people come and go far more interesting. Plus, any road trip story that isn't too boring is a good time.

One of the best parts is Biff's description of camels and their behavior (this is easily in my top five moments from the book). I feel like Moore is writing this from personal experience because it's pretty in line with everything I've ever heard about these tricky animals. Also, I liked the way things go from bad to worse to bad but not so bad again. The journey to Balthasar's fortress, the things Biff and Josh learn from him and his many concubines (how can anyone not love Joy - she's the best), the explanation for why Chinese food is eaten on Josh's birthday, and the resulting battle after so many years of extensive teaching - it all felt like Balthasar's fortress was their Hogwarts. Here they learned about romance, about friendship, about battle, and about secrecy. I'd rate the second part a 5 out of 5. I daresay if the book was solely this part of the story, it might have made a good standalone book.

Part III: Compassion

I liked this part a lot too. Gaspar's home at the monastery is truly a necessary evil for both Biff and Joshua to cope with. They needed to learn about sacrifice and temperance, especially having just had a great big loss and still grieving for that loss. I like that kung fu plays a part and I really love all the Zen Buddhism in this section. Kind of baller to know that both Joshua and Biff learn some serious moves Shaolin style.

In Biff's case, I really feel like this is the section where he truly undergoes a change: Joshua is compassionate by nature but Biff needs to learn compassion (especially for what is to come - maybe he doesn't truly learn it at all). It saddens me when the Yeti dies, but I understand why it had to happen. Another loss signifies a rebirth here as well - a recurring theme in Joshua's life at least. He and Biff are so affected by the loss of the Yeti that they must move on. It's truly the force of grief and change propelling them forward and onward. I'd say this part was a 4 out 5.

Part IV: Spirit

I really didn't understand the need to visit the third magus here. What transpires makes sense in the story (they've learned compassion now they must show it?), but I'm sort of surprised they have to go to India. The rescue is funny and provides many laughs. Their chat with Rumi, one of many interactions with superfamous scholars who are out of their own time, is especially thought provoking.

I like that after the rescue/Kali sequence there is an exchange of ideas between Josh, who is studying the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, and Biff, who is studying the Kama Sutra. It's very hilarious, yes, but it shows how the two best friends are at their final stages of learning together. Now they can have a meeting of the minds and share knowledge, which previous to this has always been one-sided or solitary study. I'd rate this part 4 out of 5.

Part V: Lamb

This is part of the book that I thought I knew what was going to happen - except for the part where Josh knows what is going to happen, I didn't see that coming. If he was truly a prophet - truly the messiah - I still don't understand why he had to do all the healing and the good and then die. Anyway, all of the apostles assemble over time and the guys are reunited with Maggie and there is decidedly more conflict towards the end of the section.

I wasn't in love with the section because knowing what will soon happen to Joshua and that we were slowly nearing that conclusion, I knew that things were going to get worse. It's unfortunate that things were bound to happen one way and that maybe Moore chose not to change the narrative for fear of offending people too much. I'd rate the fifth section a 2 out of 5.

Part VI: Passion

This was the part I knew the most about. Oddly, I guess I hadn't been reading too closely, because I had forgotten that at the beginning of the book Biff says that he hung Judas. So, when the death of Joshua happens just like I've heard it a bunch of times occurs, I was gobsmacked by Biff's reaction. It's so visceral, , so reflexive. Truly, no one knows how they would react to the murder of a loved one, but I didn't even see Biff taking such serious actions. And then to just leave. It's just such a painful way to end a satire, even if I did know how Joshua's life would end.

As for the very end, when Biff gives his gospel to Raziel and is reunited with Maggie, something about it rubs me the wrong way. Biff leaves after killing Judas; he doesn't even stick around to see if his friend resurrects himself like he promised. Biff's lack of faith is upsetting to me, especially since he sticks by him the entire novel. The fact that he then gets rewarded with a life alongside Maggie, so misery can love company, just feels like a cop out to me. Maybe in the sense that Biff and Maggie only have each other now I sort of get it (in a very end of the Hunger Games trilogy kind of way), but it stills feels unfair.

That said, it doesn't ruin the book as a whole. I would rate this section a 4 out of 5 and on the whole the book a 4 out of 5. Yes, I would recommend it to anyone of any religion who can take a moment to stop taking the world seriously or religion seriously and laugh. Would it be cool if the story was true? I don't know. Perhaps there is a universe where there actually was a childhood best friend that never got his gospel heard/written. Wouldn't that be something?

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I have a few friends' novels/works to read now that I've finished ASOIAF and Lamb. My next true review will be of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which I believe is the final book of this semester's C.S. Lewis Society readings. See you soon and happy reading!