historical fiction

The_Testament_of_Mary

2013 Longlisted: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin #6

The_Testament_of_MaryRating: 4
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…

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2013 Longlisted: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin #5

The_Testament_of_MaryRating: 5
The Testament of Mary
A Novel by Colm Tóibín
2012 / 96 Pages

Full of grace

Testament /ˈtestəmənt/ noun: something that serves as a sign or evidence of a specified fact, event, or quality.

At their very worst, fictional works that rely heavily on the Bible as their source material can be negatively explosive and highly blasphemous, at their best these same works can be critically acclaimed, but these accolades can never arrive without some measure of controversy. Colm Toibin’s slim Man Booker nominated novella The Testament of Mary clearly falls under the latter designation. It’s a wonderful, surprising, and moving piece of literature, but it will most certainly upset a fair number of people who read it and then seek it interpret its contents as being something greater than a piece of fiction. When the book is raised up falsely as having some factual merit and then challenged to stand up against their personal religious or spiritual beliefs it will most certainly fail. If it didn’t, then everything that they have been taught to believe could come crumbling down around their very knees. In order for it to work properly, a belief system must be infallible, and any perceived threat to its existence must be immediately dismissed in any way possible.

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2013 Longlisted: The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín #3

The_Testament_of_MaryRating: 3
The Testament of Mary

A Novel by Colm Tóibín
2012 / 96 Pages

Whenever a writer gives voice to a religious figure, there is bound to be controversy, and this is certainly true for Colm Tóibín’s Man Booker Prize-nominated novella, The Testament of Mary.  Told from Mary’s perspective, the story recounts Mary’s experience during the capture and crucifixion of her son, Jesus.  Tóibín’s portrait of the Virgin Mother is not the typical Christian vision of a saintly and martyred woman – but of a grieving mother who is angry at the world and the heavens for the lifetime of pain and suffering she has endured.

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Book Review: 2012 Shortlisted: Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (Review # 4)

Rating: 5
Bring Up The Bodies
A Novel by Hilary Mantel
2012 / 407 Pages

Hilary Mantel’s brilliant sequel to her 2009 novel, Wolf Hall, has once again earned her a spot on the Man Booker Prize shortlist.  Bring Up the Bodies is a continuance of Thomas Cromwell’s story as it intersects with Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.  As the novel opens, it is the fall of 1535 – Former Queen Katherine of Aragon is on her deathbed and current Queen, Anne Boleyn, is also inching dangerously close to death.  She has made many promises in her relentless efforts to become Queen, yet the most important promise – to produce a male heir to the throne – has yet to be fulfilled.  In the meantime, rumors have begun to circulate that perhaps Anne has not been faithful to her husband, and that, perhaps their daughter, Elizabeth, was fathered by another man.

Pretty soon, the swirling rumors reach the ears of the King, and although Henry is outraged at the prospect of his wife’s extramarital encounters, he also sees it as an opportunity to rid himself of Anne Boleyn, who has turned out to be more trouble than pleasure for Henry.  And of course, “Queens come and go,” so Henry enlists the help of Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell to remove Anne Boleyn of her position so that a new (and hopefully more fertile) Queen can take her place.  Luckily for Cromwell, “the affairs of the whole realm are whispered in his ear,” so the process of Anne’s removal is expedited.  In fact, it takes just about a month for Cromwell to compile a case against Anne, have her tried in court, and finally beheaded.  The crimes against the infamous Queen include treason, incest, and adultery, and her trial and subsequent death prove to be extremely consequential for the Tudors.  Many others are sent to their deaths because of what they may or may not have said and done with Anne Boleyn, and Henry’s Court is in disarray after living in the midst of potential conspirators and traitors.
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Book Review: 2012 Long Listed: André Brink’s Philida (Review #3)

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Rating: 2.5
Philida
A Novel by André Brink
2012 / 320 Pages

André Brink’s 2012 longlisted novel tells the story of Philida, a slave in South Africa in the mid 1830s.  Philida’s story begins with a journey to the slave protector’s office, where she files a formal complaint against her master’s son, Frans.  Over the years, Frans has promised Philida freedom in the heat of lovemaking, but has yet to deliver on his word.  In the meantime, Philida has given birth to several of Frans’s children, and she is impatient and frustrated.  But when Philida files her complaint, she is informed that, because Frans was never her master, he does not have the power to grant her freedom.  Only Frans’s father, Cornelis Brink, has such power, but he is an angry, cruel man and does not care about the well-being of Philida or his enslaved grandchildren.

Despite Philida’s low social status, she refuses to take no for an answer and devises her own means of escape and freedom, but not without encountering a great deal of pain and hardship along the way.  Told from alternating narrative voices, Philida is a heartbreaking, but inspiring story of one woman’s bravery and determination to achieve freedom for herself and her young children.

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