Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin  (2012, 96 pages)

The Irish Quarter

"I speak to her in whispers, the great goddess Artemis, bountiful with her arms outstretched,
and her many breasts waiting to nurture those who came towards her.  I tell her how much I
long now to sleep in the dry earth, to go to dust peacefully with my eyes shut in a place near
here where there are trees".  

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin has a very good chance to be the most talked and blogged about book by an Irish author in 2012.   This brilliant and daring book attempts to show us what the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was like after his death.  Many people will be shocked to see that Mary was not a Christian, she did not think her son was the son of God and she thought his disciples were a collection of losers and misfits who "could not look a woman in the eye".    Mothers among us, think about this for a second.  One day your son announces he is the son of God and he surrounds himself with other young men, on the dole, with histories as reprobates, with at best low end jobs who hang on his every word.   Imagine he begins to gather a following through speeches he gives.   Then he seems to preform miracles which cause the authorities to begin to observe him.   Soon you are told he will be crucified as a trouble maker (there is a very moving and hard to read for its sheer realism description of the process of crucifiction) and you begin to notice very sinister figures observing you.  You do not understand how he brought back Lazarus to life (this section of the work is  simply brilliant) but you live in a world before science and you know you don't understand everything.   Then you witness the people of your community scream with joy when he is executed in a horribly cruel very public fashion.

The story is told in Mary's old age.   She is being taken care of by followers of her son, who are in the process of writing, in part at least, what will become The New Testament.  It seems almost like she is their captive but they do take care of her.  Of course in her mind if not for them her son could have married and taken care of her.  We see her closeness to Mary Magdalene.   They want her to say that Jesus was the son of God.  There is so much pain in her story that she has a hard time even saying his name.

Mary knows her son's followers are trying to build him into a religious figure.   They want her to help them with the story.   She wants to tell what she sees as the truth before she dies.   To her it was his belief which caused him to be crucified and she feels if his followers had not pushed him he would have lived on.  Mary feels a great sense of rage and deprivation but she cannot express it other than in her testament.

This is a powerful potentially disturbing book.   The ending is very moving.  

I will say though I highly recommend the book for its quality, I think $11.98 is too much for a 98 pages e book.

Mel u


Song said...

At the very outset there is something very wrong with the premise. If one is a Chiristian then one believes in the virgin birth. And if Mary was a virgin when she had Jesus then she knew that he was the Son of God. This book then becomes absolutely redundant. I wonder how the writer explained the miracle at the wedding at Cannan, and the fact that Mary had complete faith in her son solving the problem of the wine that was running out...

Mel u said...

Risa. This book is attracting a lot of attention already. Mary saw the events at the wedding at cannan where Jesus changed water to wine as probably a trick done my misdirecting and subterfuge. Mary was not concerned about the wine as she basically does not see it as her problem. She feels it was set up in advance to it look like a miracle was preformed. On the virgin birth, the idea seems to be that as Mary and Joseph were not married it was claimed she was a virgin to safe face. There were many legends of virgin births at the time. Mary's handlers, probably John and Paul, try to push her to support stories of a miraculous birth but she will not do it.