Sunday, 18 November 2012

Book #95 The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin

The Testament Of Mary

It is an unintentional coincidence that I read The Testament Of Mary so soon after having read the also Biblical era set The Red Tent, about Jacob's daughter Dinah. For me there was plenty of contrast between the two and not much of it good.

I had mixed feelings about The Testament Of Mary, above all it's a good concept, how often has Mary's reaction to the events which befell her son Jesus been placed under the microscope in literature? Personally, I can't think of any examples, so points for originality.

It is well crafted, the excellent turn of phrase and the quality of prose, beginning as Mary, post crucifixion lives in semi exile and captivity watched over by followers of her son, who seem more like oppressors than guardians. Jesus is gone and Mary looks back on various points along the road which led her there.

The central difficulty with the Testament Of Mary is how slight it is, surely there's more, a lot more to her testament than this extremely short summary, which ultimately covers Lazarus, the Wedding at Cana and The Passion, as events and very little else.

In comparison to the Red Tent in which the life of Dinah's mother and aunts before Dinah herself was born is covered in great detail, it just seemed to me that masses of amounts of material and scope about the young Mary, her family, her meeting Joseph, Jesus childhood and birth  which is not present would have been a great addition to this piece, and would have improved by way of there being a greater longevity of readership the ability for it to have a profound resonance with the reader.

Like so many other works of this sort, I'm thinking particularly of the Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ, emphasis is placed on the fact that the version of events presented to us via The Bible may not be what actually happened.   I am tired of this non-revelation as though it must be startling for readers to consider. Although it is interesting that Mary seems to see all Jesus followers as misfits and lunatics, and is scared that Jesus himself is out of control and manic.

My personal issue with the novel was the sourness of Mary as a character her internal dialogue is very vitriolic and the former followers of Jesus are anathema to her and she to them. You may say this is only to be expected the woman has lost her son to a cause she apparently does not care for, but the "Our Lady" I grew up with, the Mary of the "Hail Mary" does not feel like this woman (again I know this is part of the point) she does not seem to possess the air of peacefulness, or compassion or meditative air one would hope for.

Ultimately, a bitterness which proves depressing pervades the testimony despite its advanced literary qualities, which in the end did not endear me to the book 6.5/10

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