The Testament of Mary
A Novel by Colm Toibin
2012 / 96 Pages
What did Jesus’ mum think about his son of God routine? Well, according to Colm Toibin’s Man Booker Prize nominated novella The Testament of Mary– she didn’t really think very highly of it all. What a waste of a life! And those friends of his!? Oy vey…
They were often silent at first, uneasy, needy, and then the talk was too loud; there were too many of them talking at the same time, or, even worse, when my son would insist on silence and begin to address them as though they were a crowd, his voice all false, and his tone all stilted, and I could not bear to hear him, it was like something grinding and it set my teeth on edge, and I often found myself walking the dusty lanes with a basket as though I needed bread, or visiting a neighbour who did not need visitors in the hope that when I returned the young men would have dispersed or that my son would have stopped speaking.
It takes a bold kind of writer to take on the task of writing a story involving a “famous” character from history who we think that we know and shake things up a bit and Mr. Toibin sure takes on a doozy– the Blessed Virgin herself, Holy Mary, mother of God. This concise novella (only 79 pages on my ereader) tells the story of Jesus in an entirely different and fascinating way. Since this is the 6th BookerMarks review (probably because of its size and potential for controversial conversation) I’ll make it brief (but not quite as brief of Mike’s BRILLIANT review here).
I absolutely loved that this story was written from Mary’s position as a mother rather than the “vessel of God”. Her perfectly angelic and obedient little boy has grown up to be the mouthpiece for a new religion and she doesn’t like what he has become. It had a very real “I love you but I don’t think I like you very much” kind of feel that every mother has experienced at one point or another (don’t say you haven’t!!) and it made Mary seem almost more human because of it.
I am not a great fan of religion but I do think that the bible is an awesome historical novel– it is our best peek into what was going on at the time. But, we also know that it was many years after the fact that some of this stuff was written down so, like the childhood game of Telephone, some of the lines may have been crossed by the final telling. Do we know exactly what happened back then? How much is fact and how much is fiction? Was Lazarus the first Zombie? Maybe Mary was pissed that her son had to die because he wouldn’t shut his trap. Maybe she was sick of being obedient. Maybe she didn’t want a flock of nasty-ass bachelor freaks at her house every other day. Maybe Saint John did put words into her mouth and it was all a dream. Maybe she just wanted to hang out with Joseph and retire to Florida. We just don’t know.
And Lazarus, it was clear to me, was dying. If he had come back to life it was merely to say a last farewell to it. There was something supremely alone about him, and if indeed he had been dead for four days and come alive again, he was in possession of a knowledge that seemed to me to have unnerved him; he had tasted something or seen or heard something which had filled him with the purest pain,which had in some grim and unspeakable way frightened him beyond belief.
This was also my first experience reading Colm Toibin and I have to say that I also enjoyed the way this short testament was put together. The manic, choppy yet run-on sentences gave it a secret diary kind of feel (and if this was indeed how Mary felt she would need to keep it secret or feel the wrath that Mr. Toibin is probably experiencing right now– stirring up all of this controversy about the Queen of Heaven and all!!). Perhaps it is because I am a recovering Catholic and no longer feel a reverence towards these bible characters that I enjoyed this a bit more than others (I didn’t even notice the “miracles” were in a different order– it made perfect sense for the story to me). 4 stars for me– definitely worth the hour it will take you to read it! Such a very different take!
This review was simultaneously posted on Literary Hoarders.