The Testament of Mary, By Colm Tóibín
The messiah, a magician, and my son
Colm Tóibí* is a master at peering into the marrow of families. The Blackwater Lightship, shortlisted for the Impac Dublin and the Booker prizes, portrayed the regrouping of a shattered family. Brooklyn, the winner of the Costa, entered the mind of a girl leaving the confines of parochial life for a new start in America. The stories in Mothers and Sons, the winner of the Edge Hill prize, explored the nuances of this complex relationship.
It is the mother and son bond to which Tóibí* returns in his new novella, specifically, a mother and son who have dominated Christian western society for the past two millennia: Mary and Jesus.
Mary's story is related in the first person, and depicts her not as the iconic figure she has become but as a lamenting mother torn apart by grief and guilt. Old and alone, she is frequently interrogated by two of her late son's disciples, who become impatient if she veers from their version of events, in which her son was the son of God, a miracle worker. As she looks back at her son's life and brutal crucifixion, she mourns the loss of the child who loved and needed her, and his development into a man who attracted society's losers and was all too willing to preach to them, assuaging their hunger for an idol with "his voice all false, and his tone all stilted". Her pain at his irascibility with her (literally the Gospel truth: "Who is my mother?": Matthew, 12:48) is harrowing.
The monumental achievement here is that the book is equally powerful and poignant whether it's read by one who espouses or eschews the New Testament. Mary's version allows for belief and doubt. She relates Jesus summoning Lazarus from the grave, but in our enlightened minds, the seed of dubiety is planted: was Lazarus dead when he was interred in his tomb? Similarly, when Jesus converts water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary observes that the pitchers of wine appear quickly (were they lined up as magician's props?) and that only the first is seen to have held water previously. Her son's hubristic insistence that he is the son of God could even be interpreted as that of a young man in the throes of schizophrenia or mania.
This is a tender, soul-rending exploration of a mother's mourning; a searing, stunning work.
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Liam Gallagher slams Daft Punk: 'I could have written Get Lucky in an hour'
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
After 61 films, including The Hangover Part III, Heather Graham admits she still likes to boogie
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
Film review: The Hangover Part III - it tries hard to be funny but fails to raise a solitary guffaw
- 1 Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good
- 2 What, let gays get married? We must be bonkers
- 3 'Something passed underneath us, quite close': Airbus A320 has close encounter with UFO
- 4 Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
- 5 Two bailed after arrest over Woolwich attack Twitter comments
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.