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The Testament of Mary

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  14,346 ratings  ·  2,467 reviews
From the author of "Brooklyn" comes a short, powerful novel about one of the most famous mothers in history. 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 th ...more
Hardcover, 104 pages
Published October 25th 2012 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published October 1st 2012)
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Griesgundel van Feldenfloeven I think the idea of this book is a portray of the real Mary, not depicted through the second hand telling of the bible, which served the clear purpose…moreI think the idea of this book is a portray of the real Mary, not depicted through the second hand telling of the bible, which served the clear purpose of promoting a new religion. As Mary says herself in the book, the Evangelists weren't interested in what really happened, but how to present Jesus as the son of God and her, though she was just a normal woman and not crazy about her son's idea, as a woman chosen by God.
So in this book Mary tells her view about what really happened, because Toibin's Mary has a need for realism rather than promoting her son. (less)
Siv I wondered as well... I think it might have to do with the nearness of death. Mary has witnessed a brutal death, and of course is changed by it. She h…moreI wondered as well... I think it might have to do with the nearness of death. Mary has witnessed a brutal death, and of course is changed by it. She has to come near to the stones to see that they are tombstones, all that is left behind after one dies. And we know she is nearing her own death, and so pondering the significance of the events of her life, writing a "testament" to leave something behind after she departs.(less)

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Gentle, stoical, visceral pain leaches from every page, into my fingers, till my very blood is charged with it.
The agony of wounds and guilt, yes, but the balm of forgiveness, too, I hope.

I did not think that the cursed shadow of what had happened would ever lift… It pumped darkness… It was a heaviness in me that often became a weight which I could not carry.”

The devout may find this too heretical.
Militant atheists may find this too steeped in the New Testament.
I read it as
Amalia Gkavea
‘’Because the world is a place of silence, the sky at night when the birds have gone is a vast silent place. No words will make the slightest difference to the sky at night.’’

A few years after the events of that nightmarish week, Mary is visited by two men who wish to write about everything that happened. Mary doesn’t want to talk to them or to anyone. They can’t understand. How could they possibly understand what it is to watch your only child dying in unthinkable agony while his tormentors ar
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My grandfather was a preacher.

I remember him as a kind man who liked to work in his garden but he was also a “fire and brimstone” orator who would deliver Jonathon Edwards like sermons. This was rural Tennessee in the mid 70s and I recall standing in the back of the church with him and stoic men in overalls and stiff jackets shaking his hand and thanking him for “the message.”

He liked to ask me what I knew about the Bible and he would quietly sing hymns and tell me stories. My grandmother would
Julie Christine
I read The Testament of Mary before dawn on this Easter Sunday. A coincidence, but not altogether without significance. It is an Easter Sunday direct-dialed from heaven: every color in the dyed-egg basket is reflected in spring’s delicate light - from the cornflower blue sky to the coral-pink sunrise to the daffodils in scene-stealing yellow. It is a day to believe in Resurrection and rebirth. Yet, I am not a Believer in the Christian sense. That Jesus was a real man I have no doubt. That he was ...more
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Testament of Mary” is a book I was aware of, but had no burning desire to read. When it was picked for my book club I read it, and I am glad that I did. The idea for the story is great. Putting aside the faith based aspect of the Christ story, what would a mother think of her son in the circumstances that surrounded the last three year of Jesus’ life? I believe that Colm Toibin has done a good job at taking a story that is known by most, and making parts of it seem new.
First off, the text i
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, I'll start with the jokes. A laconic Jewish mother? Let me tell you, if they would have nailed me to a cross when I was about 30 years old, my mom would have had way more than 20K words to say about it. And this book? It's the only part of the "New Testament," with the exception of Revelation, that I've ever read. The Old Testament? I've read that backwards (Hebrew) and forwards (Yinglish), complete with footnotes. Here we get Mary, kvetchy as anything, but also ice cold sane. I'd be kvetchy ...more
3.5 stars rounded up for the audio version of The Testament of Mary, as narrated by Meryl Streep.

This is Mary's story as she tells it. Her thoughts, opinions, and self-doubt all laid bare in a most intimate fashion on the page. There are no words wasted in the telling of this narrative, which results in a book that is very short, but incredibly tightly written.

Listening to this book is a very powerful experience -- exactly what one would expect from the wonderful Ms. Streep. She manages to imb
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
This is such a lovely book. A very dear friend of mine is a bit obsessed with Tóibín, madly in love with his writing and really doesn’t think he could ever put a foot wrong. And reading this it is hard not to agree. I found myself reading large parts of this aloud, unable to resist hearing the words – I virtually finished it in one sitting, but fell asleep last night and then read what was left on the train today, a little upset I had to read it to myself. The sentences are so beautifully crafte ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, buddy-read
In this short piece, Tóibín offers readers an insightful look into the life of Jesus Christ, from the perspective of his mother. The story becomes a monologue, delivered by Mary, that weaves throughout the life of her son, though she will never use his name. Mary offers memories from the evolving life of Jesus, adding editorial commentary when it suits her best. Choosing to see the disciples as a collection of vagrants and vagabonds, Mary cannot always understand why Jesus would associate with t ...more
BAM The Bibliomaniac

Meryl Streep reads Mary of Nazareth

My god this is gorgeous!! If you read this book, you MUST use the audio version. It's a monologue. Streep brings Mary to life as a bitter, realistic mother. This novel was just beautiful on its tragic honesty, giving the reader brutal insight into Mary's thoughts and opinions about the "misfits" and this "son of god" business. I remember years ago reading The Master by this same author and absolutely loving it too. He may be a new go-to writer for me.

#96 audio
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Throughout history, I doubt there has ever been a woman who has inspired more devotion than Mary, mother of Jesus of Nazareth... known to Christians as the Messiah, the Son of God. People throughout the world pray to God each day, invoking Mary's name, hoping she will intercede on their behalf so that their prayers might be answered. As a young Roman Catholic girl, I was taught that Mary was the standard bearer for how a Catholic girl should live her life. I was to mold myself using the qualitie ...more
I don’t spend much of my time reading anything related directly to any sort of organized faith. I picked this one up because of it being on the ‘2013 Man Booker Longlist’. It was also an easy one to knock off the list since it is fairly short. Even with all of that, I’ve read worse than this. It had its problems but made the Jesus story somewhat understandable.

It was a very short book. In one way, I liked it. As I said, I’m not a big fan of religious books. So, the fact that it was short was nic
A book that attempts to humanize a fantastical story, and it's certainly more effective (as a basis for faith) in the form of a fantastical story. What a different book the Bible would have been had it been written, even partly, by Jesus's mother. We embrace and yet at the same time are repelled the idea that Jesus was just a man. Sure, he performed miracles, but what were his motivations? Is it acceptable that he turned water into wine because he was a party--a wedding--and there wasn't enough ...more
Lewis Weinstein
I am not a Christian and I do not believe Jesus is the Son of God any more than all of us are somehow connected to the unknowable force of creation. Ok, having said that, The Testament of Mary is a beautifully constructed imagining of a mother’s anguish over the life choices of a son she sees as increasingly confused and pompous, pushed by the agenda of others to go further and further until he becomes a threat that must be eliminated by the powers that be. The description of her son’s crucifixi ...more
The whole premise of this is a strange one. Our image of Mary is thickly encrusted with the dried sediment of centuries of veneration, with iconic paintings, with maestà and pietà, with Marian devotional practices and Marian beliefs and Marian dogmas. Is it really possible to crack open that carapace and expose the authentic, historical human being underneath? Let's just think about that for a moment: Mary as a mother who saw her son crucified. So. What do you think she felt?


So. There
Perhaps, as someone who was raised in a Catholic household (albeit, by hippies with Catholic backgrounds), I will never fully manage to shake off a certain curiosity about Jesus. Even if I haven’t considered myself a Catholic since I was seven years old (long story, but its apparently when I declared that I would not go to Mass with my grandparents anymore), I still find him interesting, but I much prefer to hear historical or so-called “alternative” narratives about Jesus and his life, whether ...more
Lynne King
This is an exquisitely written book and the prose is sublime. However, I cannot really come to terms with the fact that this is a fictionalized form of the latter part of the Son of God’s life.

Reading this book made me feel very uncomfortable and the prophecies in the text rather unnerved and disturbed me. I’m not religious, inclining more towards spiritual views, but there was a sense of déjà vu which confused me.

As for its publication, well I really don’t wish to comment on that.

Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a beautiful little book. The language is lyrical and the story provoking. As someone who attended a religious school as a child, I immensely enjoyed reading how Mary was exasperated by the disciples of Christ, who insisted to force their version of the story of events upon the future of mankind. Mary thought them fools and misfits and had no patience with them and their misinterpretation of what happened. She just mourned for her son and regretted that he brought himself in danger in such a ...more
Sam Quixote
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
The Testament of Mary is presented as a missing part of the Bible told in the first person by Mary, Jesus’ mother. Missing (or suppressed) because Colm Toibin’s Mary is a sceptic of the Christian faith who relates memories of her son that question the foundation of the other testaments that paved the way to the world’s most popular religion.

I have no dog in this fight - I’m not religious at all so I’m not saying I disliked this book because it’s blasphemous or dares to adopt the voice of the ve
May 25, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was bewildered while reading this novella and was left bewildered at the end. Not in the way some books leave you with intriguing questions, but in a way that had me wondering why the author (and I am a big fan of his) made some of the choices he did.

For example, why have Mary never name the two disciples (John and the other who I thought might be Luke, but have since learned is Paul, though that would be historically inaccurate) who are bothering her while writing their accounts? Because Joh
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly original account of episodes from Jesus' life recalled by his mother, Mary, who watched from a distance a son that in adulthood mystified her. She doesn't understand how he became the leader of a cult that harbours misfits from all walks of life and is controlled by a hierarchy of men, the apostles, who seem cold and calculating. She clearly doubts the stories that are spread about him walking on water, providing loaves and fishes to a multitude of people, and certainly not the water into ...more
Those of us who grew up listening to Bible stories may enjoy this chance to reimagine the life and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As we listen to the clear and (should I say?) bitter tones of Meryl Streep reading Tóibín’s words, we realize that not much had been said of Mary in the Bible, as though she had been an unimportant part of the life of Jesus. Or perhaps, using a modern-day sensibility, she shunned the limelight, and others sought to protect her anonymity and her right to privacy by nearl ...more
Liz Janet
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“I do not know why it matters that I should tell the truth to myself at night, why it should matter that the truth should be spoken at least once in the world. Because the world is a place of silence, the sky at night when the birds have gone is a vast silent place. Words will make the slightest difference to the sky at night. They will not brighten it or make it less strange. And the day too has its own deep indifference to anything that is said.”

This is a view of Mary that some extremist woul
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this novella for a Man Booker book club, and I'm glad that I finally had the opportunity to read something by Colm Tóibín. Although the subject of this novella isn't something I would normally pick up, I'm very pleased that I started with this as it was a short but heartfelt read with some genuinely beautiful prose and a refreshing take on Mary herself.

Mary is a character that doesn't feature heavily within the Bible itself, so I was happy to get to know her as primarily a woman and a mot
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Booker 2013 Shortlist
In this book, Colm Toibin humanized Mary, the Mother of God.

Toibin gave voice to the aging Mary, now a widow, and is sorely missing her husband and his son. She does not believe that her son is the Son of God and the miracles that he performed were all staged. She longs to see her son back, not as a adult, but as a child. She recalls to herself the Sabbaths when they enjoyed themselves as a family. She doubts the 12 apostles whose two members are her supposedly protectors and she refers them as
Testament of Mary has been in my to read list for a long time. . . and now that I have finally opened it, my attention has been impaled. On one hand, we have Mary, the mother of Jesus, painted in her usual ethereal blues, creams and gold accents. On the other hand, Colm Toibin paints a very different picture of a Mary few this far distant in history would recognize. Dark-hearted, imperfect, impatient and quick to strike out, she is unbelieving in the stories spilling around and pooling in her ow ...more
Barbara M
I was looking forward to reading this book. I had very much enjoyed Colm Toibin's other book "Brooklyn." However, I was disappointed in "The Testament of Mary." Colm wove together Biblical stories that we all remember with complete fiction - i.e. his own "take" on what Mary was thinking and feeling.

The "Mom" in me could relate to how difficult it would be to watch your son being tortured and to see him die. It was interesting to think about how Mary must have felt while all of this was happening
Diane S ☔
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 First of course one has to suspend their belief and faith (if so inclined) and once that happens it is so incredibly easy to buy into this book. The writing is fantastic, the thoughts and feeling of Mary, the same as mother's everywhere. Looking back at when he was younger and needed her, her feelings of sadness as he left home, and lamenting the fact that he will not listen to her, not even to sane his life. Disliking his choice of friends and their influence over him .Actually quite amazin ...more
Barry Pierce
Such a powerful novella. You really feel for Mary, you feel her loss and you struggle with her. A beautiful and tragic story.
Jan Rice
I got this book for my husband as I thought he'd like it. It had good reviews, and neither of us had ever read anything by Colm Tóibín. But he couldn't get into it, so we decided to read it together. It was not pleasurable but the book was short--so we persisted.

In this book Mary, the Madonna of the New Testament, is imagined as an unsympathetic character who is defending herself but not in a convincing way--like a mother whose case is being tried in the media and who doesn't fit the image deman
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Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955. He studied at University College Dublin and lived in Barcelona between 1975 and 1978. Out of his experience in Barcelona be produced two books, the novel ‘The South’ (shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and winner of the Irish Times/ Aer Lingus First Fiction Award) and ‘Homage to Barcelona’, both published in 1990. When he retur ...more

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