Feature

Novel of the week: The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

Tóibín’s slim new page-turner has the mother of Jesus fuming at her son and at his misfit disciples.

(Scribner, $20) 

“This isn’t your mother’s Mother Mary,” said Ron Charles in The Washington Post. Colm Tóibín’s slim new page-turner has the mother of Jesus holed up in a house in Ephesus in the years after her son’s crucifixion. “More Medea than Madonna,” she’s fuming —at her son, for becoming a rebel and getting himself killed, and at his misfit disciples, particularly the two who’ve arrived at her door to hear her version of events and spin them into Gospel. Christian readers may recoil from this Mary’s verdict that Jesus’s martyrdom was, in her words, “not worth it.” Still, Tóibín has created “a powerful, devastating story,” fueled by one mother’s disgust that men her son called friends think their ideals more important than his life. But as vivid as Mary’s bitterness is, this 100-page novella still feels “skimpy,” said Mike Fischer in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The adult Jesus we meet is as two-dimensioned as his self-righteous followers,” and so is the boy Mary remembers raising. Tóibín can do better than this.

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