Banned Book Week: The Testament of Mary

In honour of banned book week, a different perspective.  A guest post from a fabulous woman, a colleague and friend.

I needed to take a break from a particularly heavy book I was reading, so in a smug Richard Dawkinsian moment I decided on The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin.

I had heard little about this book, only that the Mary in these pages didn’t believe that her son was the son of god in what seemed like a retelling of the bible in the style of Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.  I quickly realized that this was more broadly the story of any woman’s attempt to save her son and live with the consequences and that is why I ultimately liked this book.

Rather than the serene Mary that we are familiar with, we are presented with a woman who recognizes the futility of her son’s situation, flees for her own life and lives out her days in a bitter, paranoid seclusion. In one memorable scene she pulls a knife on a man for sitting in her dead son’s chair.
My favourite parts of the book are the scenes where her son’s followers visit her in her old age; they are writing a book about the events surrounding her son’s life and are encouraging her to report her experiences as would be consistent with their doctrine. Using a quick-witted humour and stubbornness, she refuses to play ball, instead focusing on details they don’t care about or points of view they don’t want to hear (“He gathered around him, I said, a group of misfits, who were only children like himself, or men without fathers, or men who could not look a woman in the eye. Men who were seen smiling to themselves, or who had grown old when they were still young. Not one of you was normal.”).

I recommend that you read this book whether you are secular, an open-minded Christian or just interested in reading about the life of an interesting woman living in interesting times. It’s a quick read, and you can impress your parents by reading a Man Booker prize nominee.


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