What can one say about The Testament of Mary? A more upsetting, harrowing account of a mother’s loss would be hard to imagine. Colm Tóibín has surpassed himself. I said of Julian Barnes short novel, The Sense of an Ending, a short-listed winner that it was “a jewel of a book”. Edmund White has described The Testament of Mary “as dense as a diamond”, I would add as flawless too.
The prose scintillates with precision of a well cut stone: the graphic pain of loss, both of son and husband – the empty chair which no one is allowed to use; which widow does not respond to that image? The description of Mary following the via dolorosa and catching Jesus’ eye, the detailed and messy crucifixions – all of it has the ring of truth and fully accomplishes the difficult task of bringing to the page the absolutely indescribable pain of losing a son; both while he is living and worse yet, while he is dying. The threatening obduracy of the guardians, who both seem to protect Mary and to harass her because she will not ‘remember’ what she knows not to be true.
A truth, which by this account, is sadly lacking in The Gospels. Now, obviously as a committed Christian, I might find all this as I said at the beginning, upsetting; but somehow, even though nothing chimes with the gospel narrative there is, above and beyond all that, an emotional truth that makes more sense than the stories in The New Testament. So I will need to reconcile both and carry on. Difficult, but not impossible.
This is The Book to read, don’t hesitate even if it is heretical and if the Fiona Shaw dramatization comes any where near where you are – get a ticket, I know that I will.