Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

"The Testament of Mary" by Colm Toibin (Viking, 2012)

In about 100 pages without chapter breaks we get Mary's first person PoV in a style reminiscent of Jim Crace's. She's old, and being "looked after" by two men who pester her for anecdotes. She doesn't comply, threatening to kill them if they sit on a chair that reminds her of Joseph. She thought the disciples a band of misfits. Her eye-witness accounts normalize the miracles. Lazarus was a childhood friend. She remembers that afterwards he was "moving as though his spirit was still filled with the thunderous novelty of its own great death, like a pitcher of sweet water filled to the brim, heavy with itself" (p.42).

She's a loose cannon. She doesn't even want to provide sound-bites, preferring to describe scenes in full. She knows how things will happen - "It will not be long maybe when I begin again to dream that I waited on the hill that day and held him naked in my arms, it will not be long before that dream, so close to me now and so real, will fill the air and will make its way backwards into time and thus become what happened" (p.87). At the end of the book she's told that she "held his body when it was taken down from the cross" (p.101). Actually she fled the crucifixion scene early to save herself. He remained her son rather than the son of God.

On p.69 it says "I noticed this hunger spreading like contagion until I believed that it had reached every single person there just as blood pumped from the heart makes its way inexorably to every part of the body" which might be an anachronism.

I didn't get much from the book. Maybe it should have been a short story.

Other reviews

  • Mary Gordon (New York Times)
  • Michele Roberts (Independent)
  • Isabel Berwick (Financial Times)
  • Alex Clark (Guardian)
  • Jon Pinsker (The Atlantic) (The Catholic World Report ... though it ... spends most of its time getting ruffled about the blasphemy of Tóibín’s work, it does contain an important bit of truth: “Colm Tóibín’s book won’t tell you anything about Mary. It will tell you plenty about its very sad and very angry author.” In other words, Tóibín might be putting his own words into Mary’s mouth less to evoke the state of her soul than to expound some of his own views. There’s enough self-aware winking in the text to suggest that Tóibín’s real interest lies in exploring a narrative’s inability to capture the truth.)

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