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The Testament of Mary: A Novel Paperback – February 4, 2014
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“Tóibín is at his lyrical best in The Testament of Mary, a beautiful and daring work…it takes its power from the surprises of its language, its almost shocking characterization, its austere refusal of consolation.” (Mary Gordon The New York Times Book Review)
“[An] exquisite novella…Tóibín gives a familiar story startling intimacy.” (The New Yorker)
“A heartfelt, powerful work.” (Sam Sacks The Wall Street Journal)
“Dramatic and poetic…A powerful, devastating story.” (Ron Charles The Washington Post)
“Lovely, understated and powerfully sad, The Testament of Mary finally gives the mother of Jesus a chance to speak. And, given that chance, she throws aside the blue veil of the Madonna to become wholly, gloriously human.” (Annalisa Quinn NPR)
“Mary—silent, obedient, observant—has echoed down two millennia, cementing a potent ideal in the Western imagination. Now the masterful Irish writer Colm Tóibín puts a jackhammer to the cozy, safe, Christmas-card version in The Testament of Mary.” (Karen R. Long Cleveland Plain Dealer)
“A slim, grave, exquisitely emotional book…The Testament of Mary is a spellbinding, surprisingly reverent book.” (Jeff Giles Entertainment Weekly)
“Tóibín applies a Joycean ruthlessness…Imagining himself into Mary’s interior life is his boldest jump yet.” (Hermione Lee The New York Review of Books)
“Tóibín’s intimate approach make Mary feel more credible and human…The result, The Testament of Mary, feels true.” (Claire Cameron The Millions)
“Tóibín suffuses the story with a sense of mystery and makes the reader feel (perhaps as never before) the tragedy of the crucifixion.” (Macy Halford Buzzfeed)
“A deeply, if at times painfully, human portrait of Mary, tearing asunder the robes of red and blue that envelop her in paintings and sculptures.” (Michael O’Loughlin America magazine)
“With this masterly novella, Tóibín has finally tackled the subject of Christianity—and he has done so with a vengeance…Nowhere in this beguiling and deeply intelligent, moving work is Mary’s attention to detail more instrumental (and more like a novelist’s) than in her account of her son’s death…In a single passage—and in a rendition, furthermore, of one of the most famous passages of western literature—Tóibín shows how the telling and the details are all-important.” (Robert Collins Sunday Times (UK))
“[A] monumental achievement…equally powerful and poignant whether it’s read by one who espouses or eschews the New Testament…A tender, soul-rending exploration of a mother’s mourning; a searing, stunning work.” (Leyla Sanai The Independent (UK))
“The Testament of Mary is an important and persuasive book: Tóibín's weary Mary, sceptical and grudging, reads as far more true and real than the saintly perpetual virgin of legend. And Tóibín is a wonderful writer: as ever, his lyrical and moving prose is the real miracle.” (Naomi Alderman Observer (UK))
“There is a profound ache throughout this little character study, a steely determination coupled with an unbearable loss. Although it has some insightful things to say about religion and the period—the descriptions of the Crucifixion are visceral—it has a universal message about the nature of loss. ‘I can tell you now, when you say he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.’” (Stuart Kelly Scotland on Sunday)
“This novel is the Virgin's version of the life of Christ. After a lifetime listening to everyone else's versions of that life, she is angry and frustrated because they are all questionable.” (John Spain Irish Independent)
“A flawless work, touching, moving and terrifying…” (Linda Grant The New Statesman (UK))
“Reading this perfect little novella is like watching someone light a candle inside a lantern.” (The Age (Australia))
“A stunning interpretation that is as beautiful in its presentation as it is provocative in its intention.” (Booklist)
“[A] poignant reimagining of the last days of Christ.” (Publishers Weekly)
“[The Testament of Mary] builds to a provocative climax, one that is as spiritually profound as its prose is plainspoken…A work suffused with mystery and wonder.” (Kirkus Reviews)
About the Author
Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, including The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; The Testament of Mary, and Nora Webster, as well as two story collections. Three times shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.
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Top customer reviews
As a book, THE TESTAMENT OF MARY is really quite interesting. Although she does not explicitly come out and say so, one is left with the distinct impression that Mary is not a believer that her son is the son of God sent to save us sinners of the world. She is dismissive if not hostile to her son’s followers (misfits, twitchers, those who cannot even look at a woman) who come by to press her for details, and tells of her son’s claims with incredulity.
Nonetheless, despite her son being the leader of such misfits, she is absorbed in relentless emotional pain over her son’s execution and the manner in which it came about. In this, Mary’s internal world, Toibin displays an exceptional skill as a writer, expressing emotions so deep as to capture the heart of the reader. Whatever one’s take about Christianity, we can all understand and feel for the pain of a mother watching her son slowly and inexorably walking towards his own death, all the while being utterly unable to either stop it or even slow its pace.
What is interesting about THE TESTAMENT OF MARY is that the religious questions are not clarified. The accounts of her son turning water into wine and, more so, raising Lazarus from the dead, seem to have been well verified (within the book, that is). If not miracles, then what were these? In response to being told that her son’s crucifixion saved the world, Mary does not respond by denying it, but instead by declaring that it was not worth it. It is within these ambiguities that Mary’s pain comes through.
Some simply will not read this because it does not comport with traditional Christianity. I mean no disrespect to such people, and they are free to read or not read whatever they choose. If you are interested, however, in a common story being presented from a totally different perspective, this book may be for you.
He displays great sensitivity in his re-telling of this ancient story from the perspective of Mary, set some years after the death of her son Jesus, when she herself is close to death. The few characters involved in the story are very well-drawn, while the portrayal of Jesus, particularly his relationship with his mother, is somewhat different than Christians might imagine.
Non-believers should not be put off by the subject matter as this is a most unusual, beautiful and poignant read.
This book was certainly able to get into your head because of the ordinariness of such a monumental event. The suffering is so raw.
I found it interesting that Mary described the disciples as a bunch of misfits and did not even want to be in their presence when they came to the house to visit Jesus. Perhaps any mother would have felt that way considering the possibility of the trouble that was to come through their association.
From my earlier memories of following the Catholic faith I had always been led to believe that Mary was their with her friends to see to the body after the death on the cross – this was described later in the book but it was portrayed as a dream and something that Mary was guilty about because of not actually being there.
Mary comes across as all too human. She was a person that existed and therefore would certainly have gone through such misery and suffering regardless of whether we believe her son was indeed the Son of God or just an extraordinary human being. She wrestles constantly with her emotions and guilt that she was not able to change what happened. There is no real mention of Joseph other than that Mary had a husband. I would like to have got some background to his position regarding his son’s upbringing and what influence he may have had.
I found the book a little too fast paced when it came to Jesus walking the countryside with his followers and creating miracles to all of a sudden being sentenced to death – it just seemed to happen too quickly.
It has to be said that I am calling this person who died as Jesus but in actual fact this name is never mentioned in the book. It is after all a novel and the question has to be asked - "why did Tolbin write this account'?
I guess for me the most telling point of the whole story is when the “guardians” are pronouncing that he was the Son of God and he was sent to redeem the world – to which Mary replies “I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it”.
This book is about the unconditional love of a mother, nothing more, nothing less.
A very powerful account but you have got to be up for it!