Tuesday 7 April 2020

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

Audio Version Reviewed

Historical fiction/ religion
1st century

The Testament of Mary is a first person narrative of some of the events of the alleged life of Jesus, told from his mother Mary’s point of view. The premise is that she is now an old woman waiting to die, and so her keepers, likely two of the authors of the Gospels, are harassing her to tell them stories about her son for their book. Mary was not amused by her son’s choice of friends, who she says are mostly men who can’t even look a woman in the eye. Nor is she impressed with the people who believe her son is the son of God. She has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospels; she doesn’t think they are ‘holy disciples’ or that her son’s death was ‘worth it.’ Instead, her account is that of a grieving and bitter mother who misses her son and thinks that the events leading to his death were wholly unnecessary.

I love this Mary. This Mary has absolutely zero tosses left to give, and she’s not shy about telling you so. She points out the many times she was dismissed or treated badly by her son or others who followed him. She is not the gentle, meek, retiring woman portrayed over the centuries in so much art and literature. This Mary has Things to Say™ and she is not happy about the way events played out, nor with the players involved and I don’t blame her. If someone killed my child in any way, let alone in a horrifically brutal way, I’d be bitter and mad about it, too.

I am as atheist as they come and find this a refreshing and realistic portrayal of Mary, totally divorced from centuries of veneration that has been heaped on her, although not irreverent or obnoxious. But if Mary  really existed, I can see her ending up like this. This Mary obviously loves her son but she doesn’t spare him any criticism, either. She doesn’t think he is divine or that he is the son of God. She thinks he didn’t treat her all that well once he was grown. She thought his friends were a bunch of misfits. She felt that her son’s preaching was dangerous, bizarre, and delusional. She will not tell her keepers stories about her son that weren’t true just so they can fit them in with the narrative they have created about him. She simply refuses to play. I loved her, and I felt horrible for her.

Meryl Streep, of course, does an exceptional job narrating this audio version of the story. She imbues her voice with age, fatigue, bitterness, grief, everything you might expect to find in a woman who has lived far longer than she really wants to, burdened as she is with sorrow and anger.

I loved this book (novella, really) and highly recommend it. However, if a reader is of a firm religious belief and isn’t inclined to view Mary or her son in any way other than how they are represented in the Bible, then it might be better to skip this one. It is NOT an irreverent or heretical book, but it pulls no punches and undermines a lot of the tenets of Christianity. 

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 
© Kristen MsQuinn

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1 comment:

  1. Although I haven't read/listened to this (yes), just from this splendid review, I feel that more of this type of novel which doesn't belittle or dismiss religion but tells the story in a more logical and believable way. yeas ago there was a novel about the finding of the Gospel according to Judas (Peter van Greenway?), but I know of no others that look beyond the traditional Biblical versions.


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