Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bad excuses are worse than none.

The Devil's Kitchen #1, Tasman Peninsula. October 2013.

The Testament of Mary, Colm Tóibín: For those of the Christian faith, I can see how this novel is a provocative work, but me – who accepts the existence of Jesus the historical figure (if not the Son of God) – it is an evocative and memorable depiction of Mary as I understand her: a mother who lost her son to a pretty gruesome end. In a chronological sense, Tóibín sticks close to the Gospels; but rather than the meek, blessed construct of the New Testament, in this reimagining Mary is an angry, solitary older woman still seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity.

As such, she has no interest in collaborating with the authors of the Gospel struggles with the actions and motives of her son’s disciples. The story is familiar, but this work manages to convey a startling intimacy. Given the magnitude of the tale, Tóibín’s book is surprisingly understated and immensely sad. Given the chance to speak, Mary reveals herself to be wholly, gloriously human

In that way, the tragedy of the crucifixion – as an act of torture and execution – really does come to life. Given witness to such brutality, Mary is the archetypal Christian Mother, more an angry woman in a specific time and place driven to mourning and enduring sadness and regret.

I won’t go into too much specifics (read the book), but Mary’s narrative of watching her son turn from a boy into revered godhead is convincing. In this, Christ and his disciples aren’t the polished figures you see in Pre-Raphaelite works of art; instead, they’re awkward, unruly outcasts who get themselves into a whole heap of trouble. You know the tale: a charismatic young man falls in with the wrong crowd and ends up well out of his depth.

To many this will seem immensely blasphemous, but to me The Testament of Mary is anything but. Toibin has a lot of respect for his Mary. Peter and John come in for some criticism, and wouldn't it be natural for her to be a little bit angry about her son’s own role in his fate? Annoyance and disapproval in no way lessens her grief.

Anyway, I liked it a lot. Well worth the small amount of time to read and it will stay with you long after you finish. A-.

The Devil's Kitchen #1, Tasman Peninsula. October 2013.

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