Unlike the statues, sculptures and paintings that portray her as the ageless mother clothed in blue and holding the lifeless body of her crucified son, in THE TESTAMENT OF MARY, Mary is revealed as a bereft elderly woman living in Ephesus. Years after her son’s brutal crucifixion and her husband’s death, she has forgotten how to smile and remembers too much. Nothing escapes her, except sleep.
The two disciples who watch over her grow impatient when her memory of events and miracles do not match the history they are determined to record. Because she is unable to read or write, Mary believes that the men who shelter her write things neither they nor she have witnessed. As she is questioned and watched by the men, she holds fast to her memories, and in an act of defiance, she refuses to let anyone sit in the chair that reminds her of happier times --- a time when she knew love.
"Told from her point of view, Tóibín uses sparse and beautiful language, rich details and the haunting voice of Mary to masterfully portray a grieving mother who yearns for happier times."
Through flashbacks, Mary reveals her memories of miracles attributed to her son. She remembers how, after the raising of Lazarus from the dead, news of her son’s miraculous healing powers spread. Crowds begin to follow him and enemies grow jealous. As his flock increases, she grows fearful for his life.
During the miracle of the wedding feast of Cana, her son talks in riddles. When she rises to embrace him, he appears “unfamiliar, oddly formal and grand,” and she feels compelled to talk to him in whispers. Mary grows frightened when he proclaims that he is the son of God and uses “strange proud terms to describe himself and his task in the world.” What is also odd to her is that the power he exudes makes her want to love and protect him even more.
As her last days draw near, Mary is filled with regret. She seeks to understand why, if her son can raise the dead and turn water into wine, she can’t have time pushed back before her son’s death, back when he was a baby and his father was alive and “there was ease in the world.”
THE TESTAMENT OF MARY by award-winning author Colm Tóibín is a vivid reimagining of the New Testament story of the mother of Jesus. Told from her point of view, Tóibín uses sparse and beautiful language, rich details and the haunting voice of Mary to masterfully portray a grieving mother who yearns for happier times.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on December 7, 2012