Irish novelist and playwright Colm Toibin tends to feature strong women characters in his novels, often mothers who are troublesome and prone to passion or rage. In The Testament of Mary, he gives us a striking version of the virgin Mary. To be honest, though intriguing, I found it a bit difficult to read because it is full of raw emotion and anger. Toibin imagines the most difficult and painful parts of the story, as Mary watches her son suffer and die in a politically tumultuous time when it was difficult to know whom to trust. She feared for her own life as well. When we think of Mary, we remember that she bravely took on her role as mother of the Son of God, which was full of mystery and unknown, and displayed an extraordinary faith as she treasured and pondered many things in her heart. But Toibin’s fictional perspective adds another interesting view, capturing the confusion and chaos of the time in an emotional flashback that must also ring true. The book has a subversive feel to it, because it is not the sentimental story of Mary that we are used to.
As a literary piece, nominated for the Man Booker Prize, The Testament of Mary, is a fine bit of writing, from an author who I have a lot of respect for. It has been performed in London as a one woman show on stage by Fiona Shaw. I would have liked to see that, but sadly the show has now closed.