The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

79%

28 Critic Reviews

“The Testament of Mary,” Colm Toibin’s haunting, austere and deeply affecting book written in the voice of a figure who has gone largely voiceless (if hardly ­imageless) throughout the history of Christianity...
-NY Times

Synopsis

PROVOCATIVE, HAUNTING AND INDELIBLE, Colm Tóibín’s portrait of Mary presents her as a solitary older woman still seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity.

In the ancient town of Ephesus, Mary lives alone, years after her son’s crucifixion. She has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospel. They are her keepers, providing her with food and shelter and visiting her regularly. She does not agree that her son is the Son of God; nor that his death was “worth it”; nor that the “group of misfits he gathered around him, men who could not look a woman in the eye,” were holy disciples.

Mary judges herself ruthlessly (she did not stay at the foot of the Cross until her son died—she fled, to save herself), and her judgment of others is equally harsh. This woman whom we know from centuries of paintings and scripture as the docile, loving, silent, long-suffering, obedient, worshipful mother of Christ becomes a tragic heroine with the relentless eloquence of Electra or Medea or Antigone. Tóibín’s tour de force of imagination and language is a portrait so vivid and convincing that our image of Mary will be forever transformed.
 

About Colm Toibin

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Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, including The Blackwater Lightship; The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; and The Testament of Mary, as well as two story collections. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.
 
Published November 13, 2012 by Scribner. 97 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Literature & Fiction, Other, Gay & Lesbian. Fiction
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Critic reviews for The Testament of Mary
All: 28 | Positive: 22 | Negative: 6

Kirkus

Excellent
on Sep 02 2012

A novella that builds to a provocative climax, one that is as spiritually profound as its prose is plainspoken...A work suffused with mystery and wonder.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Charles Isherwood on Nov 22 2013

“The Testament of Mary,” Colm Toibin’s haunting, austere and deeply affecting book written in the voice of a figure who has gone largely voiceless (if hardly ­imageless) throughout the history of Christianity...

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Susannah Meadows on Nov 28 2012

Mr. Toibin also zeros in on her grief over losing her son, rendering them both uncharacteristically human.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Mary Gordon on Nov 09 2012

When the character’s life is a part of “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the ante goes way up . . . Toibin is at his lyrical best.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Alex Clark on Oct 26 2012

Colm Tóibín's mothers don't always behave as they should; they are often unpredictable, occasionally downright troublesome, prone to gusts of passion or rage or – worse – unnatural indifference.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Naomi Alderman on Oct 20 2012

Colm Tóibín bravely takes this textual truth as his starting point for a gentle, thoughtful reimagining of Mary's own experience

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on Jul 23 2012

This beautiful novella turns on who or what Mary should believe about her son’s life and death—and on a mother’s grief.

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WSJ online

Below average
Reviewed by Sam Sacks on Nov 09 2012

Its conclusion is direct and almost didactic: Jesus' legend is the invention of cold, crafty zealots . . . The story loses in artfulness.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Annalisa Quinn on Nov 14 2012

Lovely, understated and powerfully sad, The Testament of Mary finally gives the mother of Jesus a chance to speak.

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NY Journal of Books

Excellent
Reviewed by Tony Bailie on Nov 13 2012

Beautiful prose, tangible emotion, and a constantly lingering sense of dread make what should be a fairly short reading experience an intense and disturbing experience.

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Toronto Star

Above average
Reviewed by Nancy Wigston on Dec 14 2012

This Mary is down-to-earth, afraid and furious by turns. “Stubborn” may describe her best.

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Toronto Star

Excellent
Reviewed by Nancy Wigston on Dec 14 2012

This Mary is down-to-earth, afraid and furious by turns. “Stubborn” may describe her best.

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Jeff Giles on Dec 07 2012

Testament is a spellbinding, surprisingly reverent book.

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The Independent

Excellent
Reviewed by Leyla Sanai on Nov 04 2012

Colm Tóibí* is a master at peering into the marrow of families.

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The Independent

Excellent
Reviewed by Michele Roberts on Oct 27 2012

He creates a reversed Pièta: he holds the mother in his arms.

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Huffington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Karen Long on Dec 08 2012

The Da Vinci Code was entertaining, and completely foolish. "The Testament of Mary" is something better, a reminder that Jesus indeed had a mother, and she was nobody's fool.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent
Reviewed by Anthony Domestico on Dec 14 2012

The Testament of Mary is a very simple - one might say classical - tale, showing how violence, even redemptive violence, frustrates our attempts to make sense of it.

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The Washington Post

Below average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Nov 13 2012

More Medea than Madonna . . . some Christians may justifiably feel assailed by this book’s resounding claim that the central event of their faith was, in Mary words, “not worth it.”

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The New Republic

Below average
Reviewed by Mark Oppenheimer on Dec 26 2012

I don’t want a Mary this contemporary and human—just as I do not want a Jesus who hikes up his shorts.

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Cleveland.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Karen R. Long on Nov 30 2012

Toibin's radical shift in perspective is thrilling, defamiliarizing the familiar tale. Mary gives us a very disturbed Lazarus, his sisters Mary and Martha -- and they rivet us anew.

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Arts Fuse

Below average
Reviewed by David Mehegan on Nov 27 2012

Tόibín’s characterization is no more believable than the original . . . I found The Testament of Mary to be a thin meal as fiction.

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The Humanist

Excellent
Reviewed by Jonathan Ree on Jan 01 2013

Mary’s plight makes a perfect topic for Colm Tóibín.

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The Catholic World Report

Below average
Reviewed by Mark P. Shea on Dec 11 2012

Colm Tóibín’s book won’t tell you anything about Mary. It will tell you plenty about its very sad and very angry author.

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The Christian Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Katherine Weber on Nov 17 2012

Its eloquent prose gives the historical mother figure a definitive voice, making her human and all the more relatable to Christian readers.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Patrick Healy on Jan 08 2013

Well-received in Dublin and caused relatively little fuss among Roman Catholics in Ireland.

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Thinking Faith

Excellent
Reviewed by Brian B. McClorry on Nov 30 2012

Tóibín’s book can be taken not simply as a caution . . . but as a sharp-edged incentive to think – and imagine – well.

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Wales Arts Review

Good
Reviewed by Wales Arts Review on Nov 01 2012

It is a book worthy of the highest critical praise, not only for its peerless literary style – which we have come to expect from Tóibín – but for its imaginative and philosophical reach. It is a profoundly intelligent book.

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The Discarded Image

Below average
Reviewed by Mindy Rice Withrow on Nov 12 2012

Many will label Toibin’s novella sacrilegious . . . and will do so without reading it.

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Reader Rating for The Testament of Mary
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