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The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
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The Testament of Mary (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Colm Toibin

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514None19,566 (3.72)1 / 143
Member:nomadreader
Title:The Testament of Mary
Authors:Colm Toibin
Info:Scribner (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 96 pages
Collections:Your library, Read, Read in 2012
Rating:****
Tags:December 2012, Jesus, Mary

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The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (2012)

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English (57)  Swedish (1)  All languages (58)
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There are many aspects of this novella which work well, and some which fall short. Mary does come off as rather flat throughout most of the story and it often feels as if Tóibín held himself back from really delving into his character's mind. The novella itself is entertaining and, as one usually expects from Tóibín, lyrical and well-written. There are many passages which roll off the tip of the tongue and Mary often uses gorgeous imagery to describe her emotions. It is definitely worth a read due to its unorthodox handling of Mary's life during the time of her son's crucifixion, but readers should be aware that the blurb on the back of the book makes the book sound much more radical in thought than it ultimately is in execution. ( )
  hovercraftofeels | Feb 26, 2014 |
First of all, Meryl Streep. Even if I had not been already interested in this novel, finding out it's read by Meryl Streep? I'm in. And she was brilliant.

The novel itself is a different side to the traditionally told story of the life of Jesus - what if the version passed down through history isn't quite the way it happened? What would Mary's story actually be? Toibin's Mary is not the sweet, joyful, willing handmaiden of the biblical tale - she is practical, and weary, and guarded, and scared, and the author made me believe right along with her.

This is a thought-provoking read, which is sure to cause some to feel unsettled with it's re-imagining of the beloved story. It's a book I will come back to - I think it will hold up to reading again and again. Highly recommended. ( )
  NeedMoreShelves | Feb 23, 2014 |


I can't decide whether this 104 page book actually counts as a novel, but it's a beautiful piece of writing nonetheless. As Mary reflects on the events of her son's life many years after his crucifixion her recollections conflict more and more with the accepted stories of the gospels. And her version of events is not what the men who were her son's followers want to hear as they write their accounts of those times. Her son's followers tell her that her son was the Son of God come to save all mankind, but Mary sees them as fools and misfits, an opinion that is confirmed when she stays at the house in Jerusalem where his followers are the night before Jesus's crucifixion:

'No question asked, I knew would elicit a straight answer. I was back in the world of fools, twitchers, malcontents, stammerers, all of them hysterical now and almost out of breath with excitement even before they spoke. And within this group of men I noticed that there was a set of hierarchies, men who spoke and were listened to, for example, or whose presence created silence, or who sat at the top of the table, or who felt free to ignore me and my companion and who demanded food from the other women who scampered in and out of the room like hunched and obedient animals.

Above all this is a tremendously powerful account of a mother grieving for her son, and for the life that she expected to lead that has gone for ever. A normal life where her son would marrry and give her grandchildren and care for her in her old age. Nothing that her son's followers tell her can assuage her grief for the son and that life she will never know. Mary's grief is timeless, and it is this that gives the book its strength. ( )
1 vote SandDune | Feb 4, 2014 |
As with just about any book written about important religious figures, there are many diverse opinions about this one. I had to go see for myself, and was able to pick up the audio version, narrated by Meryl Streep.

On the 2013 Booker Prize Shortlist, this short (104 pages in print, just over 3 hrs in audio) powerful narrative gives us a completely different voice for Mary, mother of Jesus. This is not a plaster saint, nor is she wearing anything close to a halo. This is the reflection of an elderly woman, looking back on her life, wondering what happened to turn her precious baby boy into a radical rebel who was ultimately subjected to a brutal and violent death.

This is a woman who does not see her boy as the son of God, who doesn't understand the disciples (those bullies her boy got involved with), who is afraid, who is searching for meaning, and who, as she nears the end of her life, is trying to make sense of everything that happened to her son during his short time on earth.

As one might expect, Meryl Streep's reading is superb. I actually think this is one book that is much more powerful in audio than just being read in print. Mary is brought to us in low, at times almost catatonic, monotones. Her dreamlike remembrances give us an insight unlike any Christians are used to in their Bible readings. In particular, her version of the resurrection of Lazarus gives us an almost zombie-like figure barely stumbling around supported by his sisters. Mary cannot believe her son would participate in such a quack like show of magic. She doesn't understand, and yet doesn't question him.

At Cana, we get a very different picture from the Synoptic gospels. In Toibin's work, Mary is not the instigator; in fact she is trying to get him to keep from making a show of himself. At the crucifixion, which Toibin paints in excruciating detail, we feel for this woman, who in spite of her love for her son (or because of it?) does not stay to witness the end, but rather runs into hiding in fear of her life. It is only in her later dreams that we are given the Pièta vision of Michaelangelo's.

This is a powerful read with many opportunities for challenging what we think and believe. In the end, I don't think it will change any religious beliefs, but it will flesh out a marble statue. ( )
2 vote tututhefirst | Jan 30, 2014 |
I was not really taken with this incredibly short piece of writing. I was intrigued by the set-up: Mary, the mother of Jesus, reflecting on her son's last years and death, without reverence or acceptance, while living in some fear for her own safety. Her recollections and impressions do not jive with the Biblical accounts we are familiar with; she had no desire to play along with those who hoped to establish Jesus' posthumous reputation as Son of God and Savior of Mankind, even though her livelihood and well-being seem to depend on their good will. Notably, Tóibín did not call this "The Gospel according to Mary"---there is no hint of good news here. In Mary's eyes, her son's followers were louts, Jesus's miracles were shams, and his brutal death was devoid of any redemptive value. I can believe this version of Mary; I just don't care very much about her, because she seems rather flat on the page. ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Jan 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
Colm Tóibín's mothers don't always behave as they should; they are often unpredictable, occasionally downright troublesome, prone to gusts of passion or rage or – worse – unnatural indifference. Rarely are they uncomplicated figures of placid, nurturing devotion; but they do make for fantastically involving fiction. In his 2006 short-story collection, Mothers and Sons, Tóibín brought us relationships that were often characterised by the way they inverted traditional roles. An entrepreneurial widow plots to escape to the anonymity of the big city, clashing with her son's determination to hold fast to their small-town life; another man slinks away from a crowded pub rather than be spotted by the celebrated mother who has absented herself from his life; in "A Long Winter", a magnificent extended piece set in rural Spain, a young man is forced to keep house ineptly for his father after his alcoholic mother walks out into a snowstorm rather than be deprived of drink.....
added by marq | editThe Guardian, Alex Clark (Oct 26, 2012)
 
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For Loughlin Deegan and Denis Looby
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They appear more often now, both of them, and on every visit they seem more impatient with me and with the world.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
"Originally published in 2012 in Great Britain by Viking Penguin." T.p. verso
"Some of this novel was used as the basis for the play "Testament," performed at the Dublin Theatre Festival in October 2011." T.p. verso
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Book description
In a voice that is both tender and filled with rage, The Testament of Mary tells the story of a cataclysmic event which led to an overpowering grief. For Mary, her son has been lost to the world, and now, living in exile and in fear, she tries to piece together the memories of the event that led to her son's brutal death. To her he was a vulnerable figure, surrounded by men who could not be trusted, living in a time of turmoil and change.

As her life and her suffering begin to acquire the resonance of myth. Mary struggles to break the silence surrounding what she knows to have happened. In her effort to tell the truth in all its gnarled complexity, she slowly emerges as a figure of immense moral stature as well as a woman from history rendered now as fully human.
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A provocative imagining of the later years of the mother of Jesus finds her living a solitary existence in Ephesus years after her son's crucifixion and struggling with guilt, anger, and feelings that her son is not the son of God and that His sacrifice was not for a worthy cause.… (more)

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