The Testament of Mary
A Novel by Colm Toibin
2012 / 96 Pages
The Testament of Mary begins rather abruptly, the reader is given no clear time frame as to how many years have followed the crucifixion of her son. It has the feeling that it has started as though we are beginning at the half-way point. Mary’s character and her development and surroundings comes across as though the true development was established in the first 100 pages or so prior to what the reader is privy to.
Toibin’s Mary is a great hater of men and has turned to pagan statues to worship. (This is quite an odd development given that in the following pages she describes her love for the Sabbath.) Her voice is sharp and filled with disdain. (Granted, following the crucifixion of her son, I’m certain it’s warranted, however her voice is almost staccato-like and she is quite bitter and renders great disbelief in the worship of her son as the Son of God.) Further, it is not clearly understood at the outset, and is again more than likely due to this abrupt launch in to the story, that “her keepers” are the disciples. This does not come about until almost the very end. Her disposition toward these men is again one filled with disdain. We hear of her strong dislike of them, and she tells us she preferred her son more when he was alone and not taking up with this group of what she seems to feel are punks.
Toibin’s Jesus is also a vast departure from all that has been taught, believed and followed. It is in this portrayal, where I fully understand fellow BookerMarks reviewer Michelle’s complete disregard for this book. If Toibin was writing to provoke some kind of controversy, he fails as it only comes across as extremely disrespectful. Toibin’s Jesus is portrayed as though he were an asshole and provoked the community with stunts and hell-raising on the Sabbath. Mary was informed of her son’s behaviour in such a manner where Toibin has written the miracle in Cana was an event where she needed to haul ass down there in order to drag her son back home by his ear. And again, when the raising of Lazurus from the dead is written about, it is as though Jesus was showboating and acting like an arrogant, cocky jerk when he demanded Lazarus be dug up from his grave. Yet, in subsequent paragraphs Toibin writes an about-face and claims that Jesus was told he was immortal and had great powers.
This is not at all what I imagined this book to contain within its pages. I’m additionally surprised at the shortness of the book. I did not peer too closely at the page count when I first saw the book and read the description. I was therefore surprised to learn it is more of a novella. Furthermore, if Toibin was attempting to be “provocative” as the synopsis above claims, or wishing to show Mary as a pillar of strength and determination, my opinion is that he falls desperately and far, far short of accomplishing this, and accomplishes something more along the lines of being completely and utterly disrespectful. Mary worships pagan deities “…smiling as I say to them to the shadows of the gods of this place who linger in the air to watch me and hear me.” (this is the very last sentence written.) And Jesus is an asshole. As according to Toibin, it would seem.
There is potential credence that may be warranted when an author attempts to provoke readers with alternative perspectives to a well-established story, but unfortunately with The Testament of Mary it only warrants a reaction of disgust and confusion as to why this is considered award-worthy material. 2.5 stars. On the Literary Hoarder’s ranking a 2.5 means “Meh, take it or leave it.” I’m leaving it.