Wednesday 9 October 2013

Counting Down to the Man Booker: Day One - The Testament Of Mary

So, it is less than a week until the results for the Booker come out - we've been reading them all, and what a rollercoaster it has been! We're mostly agreed on our opinions, good and bad, and it's been such a lot of fun. I, for one, feel quite bereft that we're almost finished!

With six days to go, we will count down each day reviewing one of the books on the shortlist before the announcement on Tuesday 15th - and the Man Booker event in our village! Exciting stuff. Without, further ado, let's start!

E said: The first of my Man Booker Shortlist reviews! I thought I'd start reading the list with this one, as it's so short and then I could feel some sense of accomplishment, because at least I would have read one!

The Testament of Mary tells the story of Mary, years after Jesus' crucifixion, looking back on his life and, specifically, the time directly surrounding the crucifixion. It is told in first person, almost stream-of-consciousness like and is very personal.

The first thing to state is its brevity - it is a mere 104 pages! Personally, for me, this was my main problem with it. It didn't go deep enough, we didn't hear Mary's distinctive voice enough, I didn't hear enough about her skeptisism regarding the disciples and Jesus himself. And I wanted to - what there was was good, but there just wasn't enough of it, so I was left feeling cheated.

It is a harrowing story. To feel that about your own child, to have doubts like that about someone that you have carried: these horrors are transmitted well onto paper. But, somehow, it didn't quite captivate me. I felt with Mary, but it simply wasn't enough.

That's my overall opinion: it's a good book (I hesitate to label it a novel), but I needed more. It was disappointing that Toibin cheated us out of this.

J said: I was not surprised to be disappointed by Colm Toibin's The Testament of Mary . I found this a slight and light book, in all senses. To write a novel about Mary the mother of Jesus, I expect the author to have interesting and original insight or point of view. Colm Toibin does have this to a degree. His point is that Mary was skeptical about her son's holiness and largely believed that he was carried away the by adulation of his fans. That is about as far as it goes. Miracles did appear to happen - the raising of Lazurus and turning water into wine - but they were shabby, and not the act of a God. I would have preferred these ideas to be dealt with at much greater length; I wonder if, as a, presumably, lapsed Catholic, Colm Toibin did not have the courage to pursue his idea any further. 

I did like the way he described Mary's thought processes, and I also appreciated the sense of ordinary life in Palestine at that time. So, that overall I would rate this book 2 1/2 out of 5.

A said: This was a traumatic read - a first opinion account of Jesus as told by his disbelieving exiled mother, who is baffled and tormented by the 'misfits' who surrounded him and continue to monopolise him even after death. It is harrowing on a number of levels: the story of the cruxifiction is horrific, but the age old parental experience of a child you have created becoming unknown to you, and even at odds with your sane view of the world is also hard to walk alongside. I wondered how someone who is a Christian, and particularly a Catholic might view the portrayal of Mary and particularly the loss of the Mary who traditionally intercedes on the behalf of sinful mankind.
So it was compelling for these rather harsh reasons but it felt short, almost cursory, and curtailed - hardly a novel in terms of length, and it felt unresolved and unfinished because of the finality of the underlying narrative. It's well crafted and simply written so that it does have a believable voice, but I don't think it should win the Booker!

Tune in tomorrow for the next of the shortlist!

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