My new novel, Lazarus is Dead, is due out on August 18. That’s seven years since Dry Bones. What have I been doing? The non-fiction, the stories, the living. But it’s not living that eats up the time, it’s writing novels.
In 2004, when Dry Bones came out, Harvill Secker was Secker and Warburg, and I didn’t have a website. This time round there are suddenly things to do. I should add something about Lazarus to the books pages here, and I will. I should keep track of what Harvill Secker are doing over at Vauxhall Bridge Road.
This is what they’re doing first. The publication of Lazarus is seven weeks away, and once a week until then the Vintage website will post a short reading from Lazarus is Dead as a countdown to publication day. Seven is a significant number in the story of Lazarus, and so it is in Lazarus is Dead. I’ve always been a fan of number-plots, ever since X 20, and the gospel of John, in which the story of Lazarus is first told, has a plot that calibrates to the number seven. There are seven miracles, seven signs that measure the journey of Jesus from provincial carpenter to capital Messiah.
Seven is a great number. In fact, god himself is a fan, the creator of the seven-day week and the seven pillars of wisdom, the seven branches of the menorah, the seven archangels and the seven vengeances of the murder of Cain. God’s deputy, Shakespeare, has seven ages of man because seven is a number for stories, for the seven voyages of Sinbad and the seven wives of Bluebeard (no relation). Unfortunately, seven is a rounded number, and should always be approached with caution. There are seven sins for every seven virtues, and only rarely seven brides for each of the seven brothers.
And psychologically, seven is approximately the number of different thoughts we can hold in our short-time memories at any one time, a fact I owe to the addictive Book of Numbers (1997) by the IM chess-player William Hartston. Which means I’ve now forgotten everything except where I started, which is that Random House are counting down here from the number seven. Six more weeks to go.