REVIEW: The Testament of Mary

More than anything, I'm relieved I gave this book a go; Colm Tóibín has created a relentless novel about a mother's grief, a complex female protagonist and – beyond all – he has created a pleasant surprise. Although last Tuesday it was announced that the longest book in Man Booker history (The Luminaries) bagged the prize, I feel as if the shortest novel is equally as deserving.

Author: Colm Tóibín | Publisher: Penguin | Release date: July 4th 2013 | Pages: 104 | Source: For Review
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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 a voice that is both tender and filled with rage, The Testament of Mary tells the story of a cataclysmic event which led to an overpowering grief. For Mary, her son has been lost to the world, and now, living in exile and in fear, she tries to piece together the memories of the events that led to her son's brutal death.

MY THOUGHTS: Colm Tóibín is, in essence, a wordsmith. Through his distinctive formulation of sentences, his careful (yet blatantly deliberate) choice of vocabulary and the meandering flow of paragraphs, the relationship this author shares with the words is simply stunning. To finish a barely 100 page novel feeling, somewhat, satisfied is an odd thing... and yet Colm Tóibín has planned each sentence so meticulously, to the extent the briefness of the novel is one of its main assets.

The Testament of Mary can easily be read in under an hour or two, and perhaps that's the best way to read it; no matter the reading time though, it is unforgettable and, in many ways, disturbing. Tóibín has written his protagonist, Mary, with an astounding amount of depth. I can only imagine how difficult it is to adapt and distort such an iconic figure – to create such anguish, such passion, such grief within somebody everybody knows... and yet the author manages this with a flourish, making the reader transfixed by the narrator and her story.

Admittedly, one of the only problems I had with this novel is that I'm not remotely religious; I have very little biblical knowledge. Whilst I found the complexity of the characters and the intricacy of the language fascinating, I don't think I gained as much from this novel as others inevitably will. Did this ruin the book for me? No, not at all... it just lessened the experience, as such.

But overall, this is a powerful tale that I do recommend to maturer readers; it's profound, it's thoughtful, it's a novel I'm glad I picked up. The lyrical tone and exploration of the human condition made me love it... and yet I know others will adore it even more. My Goodreads rating: ★
Favourite Quotes:    
“I remember everything. Memory fills my body as much as blood and bones.
“There was nothing delicate about him now, he was all displayed manliness, utterly confident and radiant, yes, radiant like the light is radiant, so that there was nothing that we could have spoken of then in those hours, it would have been like speaking to the stars or the full moon.

In One Word?
Why? 
Part of my reasoning for this word is because of the very last paragraph on the very last page; as I read it, I resisted the temptation to bring my hand to my mouth. The words across the page flared as my eyes passed them, the vivid imagery swam across my mind; the previous 103 pages had been building up to this moment, and then, in one page, I felt all the satisfaction a reader wants from a novel.

Have any books pleasantly surprised you recently? Will you be giving this one a try?

14 comments:

  1. Oh, this does sound good! I've never read anything by Colm Tóibín before and I wasn't really sure about this one as I'm not at all religious either. I think I'll give this a go though, if I see it around.

    By the way, I finished A Tale for the Time Being yesterday, and wow, just thinking about it makes me want to cry! It was amazing and I know I'll be rereading it, so thank you for the review that made me buy it in the first place!

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    1. Oh wow, I'm glad you paid such attention to my review! And I'm so glad you loved it – I knew you would! :) The last chapter (particularly the last line) makes my eyes well up... it's brilliant.

      As for The Testament of Mary, I do recommend; it's only short, so even if you don't like it, you won't be wasting a lot of time by giving it a go. :)

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    2. Good point! I'll ask the library if they have it next time I'm there.

      I know! I don't tend to cry at books but A Tale for the Time Being made me well up a few times... I'm going to try and find Ruth Ozeki's other books to read as well, I think.

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    3. YES! I'm planning on hunting down some more of her books too. :)

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  2. I am very glad you kept the fada in (a fada is the line above the letters in an Irish word or name). It made me feel very happy to be Irish and all that stuff.

    Trying to decide whether to read this, or The Luminaries, or both.... which would you recommend?
    :)

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    1. Haha I didn't actually know that it was a fada, but just wanted to get his name right! But thanks for teaching me, it's quite a cool thing to know. :)

      I think I'd recommend The Luminaries if you have enough stamina for an 800 page book and you like "clever" books in general... I'd recommend this if you want something quicker, but also more lyrical and poetic. In all honesty though, I recommend A Tale For the Time Being the most (another one of the Man Booker nominees)!

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  3. I am a huge Fan of his previous novels and thought your review was perfect. I will pick up a copy the next time I am in the bookshop and savour each poetic word. His writing is just so beautiful. I am reading Brooklyn for the 3rd time and never get sick of the amazing prose :)

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    1. If you like his other novels, then you'll probably enjoy this one! I reckon I'll now have to check out Broklyn :)

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    2. Gahhhhh I meant to type "Brooklyn" haha!

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  4. Unfortunately, I quite disliked this one. :/ I had a lot of problems with it, and it just didn't convince me. I'm glad you liked it though! Great review. :)

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    1. Aw! Hope you enjoy the other nominees better. :)

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    2. Can't wait to see your review though!

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  5. The concept of this sounds really interesting! I'll look out for it, but my TBR pile is so big.... ._. I haven't read any of the Booker shortlisted books! :( I've loved reading your reviews of them, though!

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    1. Thank you SO much Georgia! I'm glad people are enjoying these reviews. :)

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