Having recently finished reading Great Lion of God, a novel about the apostle Paul, I'm a little surprised I so quickly jumped into another Biblical narrative of the early Christian church. But I've been knocking out these Man Booker Prize nominated books this year, and this one had come highly recommended, so why not?
Like the many books in the Christian New Testament, The Testament of Mary is a short work; one could easily read it in one sitting. Because of this, I had wondered if the style would match the writing style of much of the Bible. It does not. The Testament of Mary is told in the straight-forward narrative style of today. Largely, the story focuses on Mary herself, in the years toward the end of her life.
Initially, I really enjoyed this novella. There's a sense of desperation and paranoia in Mary that is engaging and haunting. We see her afraid, questioning everything in the years following her son's crucifixion. Then we see the flashbacks of the grisly crucifixion itself which are beautifully rendered. And somewhere, in the middle of the crucifixion of all places, it sputters to a halt. I lost my connection with Mary. She no longer seemed to be the engaging, broken woman who'd lost everything, but a testing ground for doubt and criticism. In my opinion, she was no longer the grieving mother I could empathize with, but a tangled mess of judgment—of herself, her son, and the overzealous followers that shadowed her. It's hard to rally behind a character with absolutely no compassion or hope. In the end, Mary could not wait for the end to come—only there could I sympathize with her.
The Testament of Mary was good, but it wasn't that good. Poor, poor Mary—a character with so much potential at the beginning—falls apart in far too many ways. Unfortunately, the story fell apart with her. That being said, I loved the idea, enjoyed the writing style, and recognized the potential; I will not let some “mother of god” persuade me to abandon Tóibín.
I don't believe I've hit my max on these New Testament stories either, so forward I go. For my next journey with Jesus, I'm eying Christopher Moore's Lamb. I have a feeling that Mary does a better job of keeping her shit together.