Lazarus Is Dead by Richard Beard

'Ee's not the messiah etc.
All is not what it seems with Richard Beard and his writing. Taken on a primary level, as I do with most novels, Lazarus...is a slightly dry, mostly comic portrayal of an interpretation of the life of Lazarus, interspersed with "fact" taken and / or extrapolated from various sources, including the Gospel of John, various Renaissance paintings and the like. My wife, being an intelligent, literate and generally >170 IQ type person, quickly identified that this book was clearly not just a simple imagined biography.

I think the exchange went something like this:

She - Oh.
Me - Wassat?
She - Reminds me of Raymond Queneau and those chaps*.
Me - Exercises in Style Raymond Queneau?
She - Hm-hm, and the Oulipo bunch**.
Me - Aren't they a Romanian football team?


After her withering look and sigh of disgust, of course I rushed immediately*** to the library**** to check out Oulipo (or Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) and what that meant in context. I was none the wiser.


Me - You've lost me.
She - What are we talking about?
Me - Oulipo FC, the Romanian football team.
She - That was two months ago!

She graciously pointed out that I was, in fact, overlooking a very interesting literary conceit in that Beard was numbering his chapters from seven (also, so it happens that she was able to tell me an important biblical number) to zero and back to seven again, whilst restricting each chapter to the same amount of passages or sections therein, creating a sense of tension towards the middle where everything becomes contracted and the drama builds. 

Apparently, there was a
man on a bus.
Me - Oh. And did you like it?
She - Hm? What?
Me - The book? You read it?
She - No. Not my cup of tea. 
Me - Then how...?
She - What?
Me - ...did you know...?
She - I'm not a fucking moron.

She may as well have added "like you" to that last sentence. Well, the scales fell from my eyes***** and I wept with understanding at last. Beard is clearly influenced by these French intellectuals and therefore what is on the surface a very interesting and entertaining read (Lazarus is a good, solidly realised character in spite of the tiny amount we actually know about him) is made doubly so by the fact that he has forced such a curious restriction on his writing. The result, as mentioned, is right up my street, and makes Jesus out to be a very cold, calculating Messiah-in-waiting, as he tests all of his "stunts" on Lazarus before trying them himself, and as each "miracle" he performs increases in wonder, Lazarus becomes progressively sicker as he knows he must. Without risking a spoiler, Lazarus dies. Beard, however, continues his narrative. 

Erudite, imaginative and full of dry humour, I like Beard's vision of Lazarus and life in the time of Jesus. Personally, I think it stands up as a novel without all the extra literary guff, but then I'm clearly a dimwit.


*N.B. such gentrified nonsense as the use of the word "chaps" is purely a fiction of my own making. Being French, she would of course only use the correct word at the correct moment, and not be such a useless fop.
** Ditto for the use of the word "bunch".
*** For verisimilitude, in place of "immediately", please substitute "eventually". And you can probably trim off the verb "rushed" and replace with "found myself stumbling upon"...
**** Ahem. Wikipedia....
***** Need I highlight my unworthiness as a narrator once more?

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