The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

13547234The 2013 Man Booker Prize longlist was recently announced and bookish people (myself included) tend to love book lists. I mentally make a note to read all of them every year and never succeed. Don’t even really come close actually, but my intentions are pure. When I stumbled upon The Testament of Mary on my local library’s new fiction shelf, I grabbed and conquered this novella rather quickly.

Colm Toibin is becoming quite the prolific author. He’s already become comfortable with being a Man Booker regular. My bookclub and I read Brooklyn a couple of years ago to a fairly mixed reception. I wasn’t the biggest of fans plot-wise, but loved Toibin’s writing. The Testament of Mary is 81 pages focusing on an elderly Mary after Jesus has been crucified. It’s just a short little character study of one of the most famous women of all time. And a Saint, no less.

What worked for me was Mary’s characterization. I liked that Toibin made her a real, elderly woman filled with bittersweet memories, anger, and many mixed emotions about her son and herself. Unfortunately, 81 pages is just not enough time to flesh out such an important biblical figure. With twice as many pages, Toibin could have written a deeply moving masterpiece. Instead, Mary’s contrary characterization comes off as a quick talking point to attract readers rather than a fleshed out analysis of the kind of woman Mary might have been – particularly in light of her life’s tragedies and joys.

I’m beginning to think Mr. Toibin and I just aren’t likely to have a long lasting relationship. I’ve given him two fair tries and nothing has really impressed me. Maybe his genius is just something I can’t see. Or maybe these award lists are full of shit. What do you think? Either way, I’m glad I read it – only took a couple of hours – but I’m even more thankful that I didn’t spend any of my own dollars.

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