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Lazarus Is Dead

Lazarus Is Dead - Richard Beard At a gala performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, comedienne Victoria Wood was asked what she thought of the show. "It's very sad," she said, "he dies in the end you know." Here it is Jesus's friend Lazarus who dies, not at the end but in the middle. Then comes back to life again, thanks to his childhood friend. We are presented with episodes from the childhood of Lazarus and Jesus, speculations about those formative years together and the different paths their lives subsequently followed. "Among all the people Jesus knows, and all the people Jesus meets, Lazarus is unique in the Christian New Testament. Not in coming back from the dead (there were others) but in being named as Jesus's friend. Jesus has disciples, some of whom he loves, but Lazarus is his only recorded friend. And famously, unforgettably, in the shortest verse of the bible, Lazarus can make Jesus weep."As you can see, much of this novel reads like non-fiction. The author, as narrator, attempts to piece together the life (and death) (and life again) story of Lazarus, and his connection to Jesus, from the few clues to be found in the Bible. A kind of literary archaeobiography (biblioarchaeology?) setting out to answer questions like: what did Lazarus die of? He lives with his sisters, who are unaffected, so whatever he has cannot be infectious, for example. "Lazarus has eight months to live. That much we know, but smallpox would have killed him quicker than that. His rash at this stage must therefore be scabies, caused by parasitic mites beneath the skin. The mite Sarcoptes scabiei clusters on bedding, clothing and other household objects. Impregnated female mites wait for contact with human skin, then seek out the folds of the body. They make a home in the softness between fingers and toes, inside the elbow or behind the knee, between the buttocks or in the red heat of the groin. They start tunnelling."Beard switches between this forensic analysis and speculative historical-fiction in the way of a highbrow television docudrama. Reconstructing history while deconstructing the barrier between fiction and non-fiction. Leaving us to wonder how much of history is as speculative as fiction anyway. Where is the line between reality and imagination? Can we ever know?Lazarus is Dead does not have the sweltering atmosphere of Jim Crace's Quarantine, but it is a fascinating and compelling read. A fictional biography of someone who didn't exist, and then did, and then didn't, and then did again, and then...what?