Testament of Mary (Toibin) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Unlike other writers who, in rendering the historical past, leave their poetic and image-making gifts at the door, Toibin is at his lyrical best in The Testament of Mary.... A beautiful and daring work. Originally performed as a one-woman show in Dublin, it takes its power from the surprises of its language, its almost shocking characterization, its austere refusal of consolation. The source of this mother's grief is as much the nature of humankind as the cruel fate of her own son.
Mary Gordon - New York Times Book Review


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


The Testament of Mary is an important and persuasive book: Toibin's weary Mary, sceptical and grudging, reads as far more true and real than the saintly perpetual virgin of legend. And Toibin is a wonderful writer: as ever, his lyrical and moving prose is the real miracle.”
Naomi Alderman - Observer


With this masterly novella, Toibin 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—Toibin shows how the telling and the details are all-important.
Robert Collins - Sunday Times (UK)


Toibin (Brooklyn) has chosen Jesus’ mother as the narrator of his poignant reimagining of the last days of Christ. Mary doesn’t think her son is the son of God; in fact, she’s convinced that he’s simply running with the wrong crowd, “Something about the earnestness of those young men repelled me... the sense that there was something missing in each one of them.” But when she recounts the story of Lazarus’s return from the grave, she presents no other explanation than that of his sisters, that Jesus was the one who brought him back. At the wedding at Cana, she sees Lazarus for herself and finds that “he was in possession of a knowledge that seemed to me to have unnerved him; he had tasted something or seen or heard something which had filled him with the purest pain....” This beautiful novella turns on who or what Mary should believe about her son’s life and death—and on a mother’s grief: “I saw that once again he was trying to remove the thorns that were cutting into his forehead and the back of his head and, failing to do anything to help himself, he lifted his head for a moment and his eyes caught mine.” .
Publishers Weekly


Toibin's Mary is nothing like you'd expect, especially if your religious views run to the traditional. She doesn't think Jesus was the Son of God, that his death had any significance, and that the motley men surrounding him (her "keepers" now) are holy disciples. She also blames herself for abandoning her son on the Cross to save her own life. Tóibín is one of the few authors I can imagine shaking Mary loose of two millennia of prayer, chant, and painting so that we can see her afresh
Library Journal


A stunning interpretation that is as beautiful in its presentation as it is provocative in its intention.
Booklist


A novella that builds to a provocative climax, one that is as spiritually profound as its prose is plainspoken. At the outset, the latest from the esteemed Irish author (Brooklyn, 2009, etc.) seems like a "high concept" breather from his longer, more complex fiction.... What follows the crucifixion gives a whole new dimension to the testament, for Mary and the reader alike. A work suffused with mystery and wonder.
Kirkus Reviews




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