Commitment phobia at its best – “The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin

February 7, 2013 at 8:58 pm 2 comments

“The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin, Published in 2012

The Immaculate Virgin Mary

I was really frustrated with this book.  It is Mary’s account of her life with Jesus, kind of. It deals with her tremendous sense of estrangement when Jesus becomes someone she no longer recognizes – performing miracles and claiming to be the son of God.  Mary also reflects on Jesus’ death and how she feels she was a coward and did not do all of the things that she wished she had. I was intrigued by this book for a couple reasons particularly when I heard an interview with the author on Fresh Air.

This book is poetic and as one critic stated Toibin’s writing is lyrical.  But it has been described as provocative, haunting, and profound. I just don’t think it is any of those things.  I do think Toibin missed an opportunity here.  This story is an opportunity for dialogue and it seems like Toibin dances around that possibility.  Is Mary saying that she didn’t do all the things the disciples claims she did? Toibin’s answer is maybe.  Is Mary saying that Jesus was followed by mentally unstable people? Maybe.  Is Mary claiming that some of the miracles people said Jesus performed may not have happened? Maybe.

With all of the perceived shoulder shrugging really Mary is not saying much of anything.  At times I just wanted to shout “what are you saying??!!!!”  Combine this non-committal narrative with a truly gruesome description of the crucification and then I really wanted to shout “whatever you are saying, why are you saying it??!!”  But keep in mind the book is only around 90 pages so as non-commital as Mary’s narrative is, you also don’t have to commit a lot of time. And for that we can truly be grateful.


Entry filed under: February 2013 reads. Tags: , , , , .

The ties that bind us can also break us – “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar The gift that reading gives us – “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jim KABLE  |  February 7, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    Have only read reviews – but just recently his book BROOKLYN – quite marvellous in some ways but as with a lot of Cólm Toíbín’s writing – the impression was of the central storyteller character watching herself. I have also recently read Lesley CANNOLD’s The Book of Rachael – the same field as The Testament of Mary – but this time from the perspective of a sister of Jesus – very, very satisfying!

    • 2. Emily C  |  February 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm

      I will have to check out “The Book of Rachael” it sounds interesting. I agree that Toibin’s characters seem detached and outside of themselves. I still may read “Brooklyn” though.


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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