Man Booker reading 5 - The Testament of Mary

>> Monday, October 14, 2013

Man Booker reading 1 - Harvest and The Kills

Man Booker reading 2 - The Luminaries

Man Booker reading 3 - A Tale For The Time Being

Man Booker reading 4 - We Need New Names

The next book was, yet again, something completely different (and its diversity is something I really liked about this year's shortlist): Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary. This is more a novella than a novel, at barely 100 pages, and the Mary of the title is Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus Christ. The book consists of Mary remembering the events of the last few years. She's being plagued by two demanding and disapproving men, who want to hear about her son, but she doesn't like it, so she won't talk to them. She'll tell us instead.

The point here is not 'was he or wasn't he?'. That's left ambiguous. What I found fascinating was the look at what it would have felt like for a mother to have her son become this powerful figure, someone who attracted adulation and admiration from followers who were convinced he was the Son of God, as well as the dangerous attention of the authorities, who saw him as a troublemaker they had to do something about. Mary's mixed feelings are believably portrayed. She loves her son, but part of her doesn't much like that he's become the centre of what she sees as a travelling circus, and she resents that. She often even resents him.

I was particularly struck by Tóibín's view of the crucifixion through a mother's eyes. It's something that has become so stylised and symbolic that the sheer brutality of it can get lost, but it's really brought to the centre here. I found that section harrowing and hard to read, exactly as it should be.

The book is beautifully written, with every word carefully chosen, and I enjoyed it. It didn't quite rock my world, though, and I found it interesting and good rather than brilliant and amazing, so it was a B+.

Tomorrow: The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri and wrap-up


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