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The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

The Testament of Mary (2012)

by Colm Tóibín

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1,0619112,213 (3.6)1 / 224
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.

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English (84)  Swedish (2)  Dutch (2)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (91)
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
This book is Mary's voice, but a Mary we weren't familiar with. This is a Mom who has grief, guilt & regret and misunderstanding for her role in her son's life, and some for her son's role in life. I was confused by her not naming some of the players and those she did name, I was trying to figure out who they were. Toibin does a great job presenting Mary, even though her voice and attitudes seem pretty modern for a woman in biblical times. It was a great complex, short, emotional read. A great one for promoting discussion and future research. ( )
  EllenH | Aug 21, 2019 |
Page 80 "It was not worth it." I think of my mother and how many people thought she was an inspiration. I knew a portion of her suffering, though, and it was not worth it. Nothing justifies suffering. And yet: this is what we have.
Can another, alien, tradition offer solace? (Artemis?) I think so. It's stripped bare of association for us. That makes it work.
No resurrection in this story, only a shared dream and an attempt to weave meaning (see page 68.). One might search for a clue prior to the resurrection, but the text yields only shared mania, wild, shallow hope for relief.
Today's liturgical reading was from 1 Corinthians 15. I read it in The Message translation. "If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot.”
The point was not Christ’s suffering (or our own) but that he gave freely everything he had to give. Mary, too, in her particular way (the way we all give) gave all she had, in this body, which is the point of the Assumption, that there be a woman body and a man body (and everything in between) fully given, present now, in love.
Suffering is not justified but also not denied; Love stills triumphs. It is not defeated by suffering, God willing.
( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
Too short to leave much of an impact and I'm too much of an orthodox Jew to have known enough about Mary for this to leave much of an impression. At 104 pages, I'm jolly pleased I picked this up cheap. ( )
  asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |
I'd been wanting to read this for along time - it is a small, slim volume if you read it in hard copy, but still I saved mine for a quiet time because I knew it would be a wrenching read. I read it in a few sittings. None of them were easy, though it is a simple enough fictionalized account of Mary's possible story written in first person.

Toibin gives the reader a darkly pragmatic imagining of the trials of women, of the lengths to which people can and will go to get what they want out of someone, even in the face of silence or truthful brevity, of grief, old age, parenting and bereavement.

He gives the reader a unique chance to feel for Mary, for mothers, for anyone who's lost it all in the face of others' relentless pursuit of faith, or power, or conformity.

Worth reading for his account of Lazarus alone. It will change the way you think abt weaving a narrative out of others' accounts of the miraculous .

( )
  nkmunn | Nov 17, 2018 |
‘’I have forgotten how to smile. I have no further need for smiling.’’

I’m not sure how this review is going to come through. This is a subject matter very close to my heart and a novel by one of my most beloved writers. Therefore, if you think this text is too emotional, I apologise in advance. The only thing I want to add is that any comments related to religion or the matter of Faith in general will be deleted at once. This will not be the space for religious debate. I have said before that each one’s faith and beliefs (or lack of both) is our own business, an extremely personal issue. We can discuss the novel’s technicalities to our heart’s content but any opinions on religion have nothing to do with Literature and our personal convictions concern noone. I cannot stress this enough. This is an amateurish attempt of mine to write a text that will attempt to explain why The Testament Of Mary is one of the most poignant, powerful novels I’ve ever read. Questions on particular religions or Atheism or what not do not interest me in the slightest and I don’t provide space for them. I am sorry if I sound blunt but this is my personal way to clear up some things before we get messy. Thank you for your understanding.

‘’Because the world is a place of silence, the sky at night when the birds have gone is a vast silent place. No words will make the slightest difference to the sky at night.’’

A few years after the events of that nightmarish week, Mary is visited by two men who wish to write about everything that happened. Mary doesn’t want to talk to them or to anyone. They can’t understand. How could they possibly understand what it is to watch your only child dying in unthinkable agony while his tormentors are either watching idly or casting dice for His clothes nearby. How could they understand the resilience she had to unearth in order not to rush and tear the eyes of the murderers with Her bare hands? But they aren’t interested in what She thinks or how She feels, they just want their opinions verified. Mary starts speaking to us instead, going back to the last few months before the death of Her child, before the world changed forever. Except She doesn’t care, the son is dead. Needlessly, absurdly, terrifyingly. It is the world, the people that took Him away. How can a mother forgive even if she understands, even if she knows? Tóibín creates a masterpiece around the thoughts and the moving characterization of one of the most beloved religious figures for millions of people.

I didn’t expect anything less from one of the greatest of our times. The writing is phenomenal. The descriptive passages resemble the Biblical tone of the New Testament and the dialogue has a period feeling, especially when Pilate addresses the crows. (On a lighter note, before things get unbearably heavy and dark, I feel the need to add that Pilate’s interaction with the mob brought to my mind the excellent Andrew Lloyd Webber - Tim Rice Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar. ‘’Trial Before Pilate / 39 Lashes’’ is one of the finest moments in the show, both the music and the libretto are outstanding.) Mary’s words and thoughts are extremely carefully chosen and expressed and they retain a more contemporary, universal feeling. You can ‘’hear’’ a kind of solemnity, fierceness and, at the same time, a deep sense that everything is in vain. Mary herself is fierce, independent, determined. Full of a burning rage that turns endless sadness into wrath for the impossible injustice. In my opinion, sometimes, she’s also in denial because She knows all fears will prove true in the end…

‘’There are men shouting in the night.’’

The way Tóibín unfolds the story and develops events we all know extremely well is fascinating. The dark, foreboding hints of the horror that is to follow are everywhere and the scenery is very powerful. Silence, darkness, incorporeal voices in the middle of the night. An intense feeling of isolation surrounds Mary and Jesus, even though He’s followed by a multitude of people, foreshadowing that loss and torment are horrifyingly lonely experiences. It is quite clear that Mary feels threatened by friends and enemies alike. The writer inserts a very interesting, mysterious figure called the Strangler. He seems to follow them everywhere. He commits no crime but he stands there as a symbol of danger and death. I imagined him as a metaphor for Satan.

Now, there are many moments when Tóibín lets the story come into its own. He mixes up some of the events of the New Testament. For instance, the Wedding at Cana takes place before the Raising of Lazarus but unless one is a die-hard purist (in which case they’ll abandon the novel before they turn the third page) it makes no difference at all. Now, the Raising of Lazarus is always a moment of reference in any production of the life of Jesus and Tóibín creates an extraordinary sequence. I found his characterization of Lazarus extremely powerful and moving. Lazarus is said to be the one who never smiled again due to the horrors he had witnessed during his four days in the Otherworld and Tóibín remains true to this tradition. He also has Mary contemplating on the gods of the past, implying that there may have been peace if the slight possibility of the coexistence of all religions had become reality. If it weren’t for the humans, the fanatics who use religion as pretext for relentless violence, to justify their own unbearable narrow mindedness. We still see this every day. Countries are governed by such people, no need to name names, right?

‘’He is to be crucified.’’

The tension is masterfully built during the final moments. As we view the incidents exclusively through Mary’s eyes, we sense the impending doom as she is the last to know about the arrest of Jesus. At the hour of need, Tóibín writes about loneliness. Cowards slip away, denying any aid or consolation. Never trust relatives, I always say. They are the first to shut the door on your face….Every talented writer is an excellent psychologist, in my opinion. Here, he succeeds in projecting the psychology of the brainless crowd who lust for blood. The violence of the mob, the moment when every human being becomes more ferocious than any animal. Except that animals have a sense of justice. The crowds have nothing. They know nothing and are led blindly. This has been our world’s History since the beginning of time.

‘’He was the boy I had given birth to and he was more defenseless now than he had been then.’’

The moment when Pilate presents Jesus to the mob was one of the most terrifying in the novel. Tóibín doesn’t choose to make us of cheap details or gore that would contaminate the emotional weight of the scene. It is the terror of an incomprehensible justice that is enough. The feeling of seeing a mother watching her child, beaten and humiliated, walking to an unjust, terrifying death, forced to carry the instrument of his execution. The scene of the Crucifixion is swiftly dealt with. Tóibín doesn’t need to resort to shocking theatrics. Blood and gore are for idiots.

How did this fail to win the Man Booker Prize in 2013 is beyond me. I haven’t read The Luminaries (I intend to do so soon) but I am more than certain that it can’t stand next to Tóibín’s talent. This is a story of unbearable loss, injustice and survival through a thick silence of pain and death. It is a terrifying, yet tender, masterpiece and, in my opinion, his best work. For it is the greatest responsibility to reimagine Mary’s most tragic moments and bring forth such an excellent result. If nothing else, this is the story of a woman who experienced the most severe blow a parent can accept. It is not a matter of this faith or that but a story of the heart and the soul. One must be made of stone to remain indifferent…

‘’I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.’’

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
1 vote AmaliaGavea | Jul 20, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 84 (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.)
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"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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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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