Skip to main content

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?

Comments

How's about that then?

Apochryphal Tales by Karel Čapek

Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.

How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.

Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…

Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …