So far Lazarus is Dead has been reviewed in the Financial Times, The Spectator, The Eastern Daily Press, The Times Literary Supplement, The Glasgow Herald, The Sunday Times, The Catholic Herald, Sunday Business Post (Ireland), The Times and The Observer. Not everyone is entirely with the programme, but then a book that pleased everyone wouldn’t be a book by me. Also, there’s a writing truism that a bad review is better than none at all. From experience, I can attest that this is so (when the wounds begin to heal).
Standard practice at this point is to extract the best bits of these reviews to give the impression of unanimous praise. Or in a different mood I could do quite the opposite, often from the same review. I’ve done both here, so that anyone with preconceptions can keep them intact. From a couple of the reviews I couldn’t find anything good, but then elsewhere was nothing bad.
(If I haven’t included a link the reviews are unavailable online or are behind a paywall.)
‘What we end up with is an extraordinary hybrid: a scholarly reflection and a flesh-and-blood narrative. Precisely how Beard pulls this off will take several readings. However he does it, it works. The novel is seamless; as gripping as a thriller and endlessly thought-provoking. Not only does the novel ask central questions about belief and theology, it portrays a time which feels very real and very similar to our own … Surprising, spellbinding, witty and utterly original.’ Chris Dolan, The Sunday Herald, Scotland
‘… ultimately it is the narrative voice – cultivated, wry, yet not too knowing to sustain a note of wonder – that makes this novel so compelling and strange.’ Edmund Gordon, The Sunday Times
‘… this is a thoughtful, enjoyable book.’ Simon Baker, The Spectator
‘… this clever and original book keeps the reader guessing until the death – and beyond.’ Adrian Turpin, Financial Times
‘Richard Beard’s new novel is a fascinating mixture of fiction and academic essay, a re-imagination of the life of Lazarus from youth to resurrection and beyond. Using biblical sources and other, less orthodox ones, Beard weaves a compelling portrait of first-century Israel.’ unsigned, Catholic Herald
‘… the work succeeds because, overall, Beard is to be taken seriously. He can stir emotion quickly and simply … his essayistic digressions temper the mythic luminosity of his subject, contributing to the poignancy of his imagined “biography”‘ Laurence Scott, The Times Literary Supplement
‘.. this strange, compelling and inventive book. … a challenging, thoughtful read, even for a die-hard heathen.’ Stacia Briggs, Eastern Daily Press.
‘… a thoroughly entertaining elaboration of the miraculous Lazarus’s life. Lazarus Is Dead is no ordinary novel: it is a brilliant, genre bending retelling and subversion of one of the oldest, most sensational stories in the western canon.’ Sara Keating, Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
‘There are risks, however, in breaking the “vivid and continuous dream” of fiction, in positioning the reader outside the central story and undermining our faith in it, and here it does not pay sufficient dividends. The dialogue between different texts is dry, lacking in drama or intellectual punch …’ Tom Lee, Observer
‘Hmmm. Unconvincing, but as well made as a brick can be without straw.’ Kate Saunders, The Times
Some contradictory pairs:
‘Lazarus is Dead is described on the jacket as ‘genre-bending’, which is accurate, since it combines literary fiction with a highly speculative form of biography-cum-history.’ Spectator
‘Beard’s tale of second chances is both a novel and, to some extent, a cultural history of the Lazarus figure. This is hardly as “genre-bending” as the publishers suggest.’ FT
‘It took me time to warm to this book with its spare prose and matter-of-fact turn of phrase…’ Eastern Daily Press
‘Beard writes with sharp clarity; short, unadorned sentences that contain an unforced, incisive wit.’ Sunday Business Post
In a hurry
One-word extracts: ‘Stimulating’ Sunday Times, ‘Impressive’ FT, ‘Beautiful’ EDP, ‘Imaginative’ Observer,’Well-made’ The Times, ‘Enjoyable’ Spectator, ‘Cinematic’ TLS, ‘Spellbinding’ Sunday Herald
Or not: ‘Detached’ FT, ‘Dry’ EDP, ‘Dry’ Observer, ‘Glib,’ TLS, ‘Clogged’ Spectator, ‘Hmmm’ Times
That’s before we even get to the book blogs. I’ll come back to these, but the non-aligned critics have more space and can produce more considered writing than some of the hurried squibs in broadsheets (‘Hmmm’ is a limited critical term).