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The Testament of Mary Paperback – 4 Jul 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 376 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241962978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241962978
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 0.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (376 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

Beguiling and deeply intelligent...In a single passage - and in a rendition, furthermore, of one of the most famous passages of western literature - Tóibín shows how the telling and the details are all-important. (Robert Collins Sunday Times)

Tóibín's weary Mary, sceptical and grudging, reads as far more true and real than the saintly perpetual virgin of legend. And Tóibín is a wonderful writer: as ever, his lyrical and moving prose is the real miracle. (Naomi Alderman Observer)

This is a flawless work, touching, moving and terrifying. (Linda Grant New Statesman)

There is a profound ache throughout this little character study, a steely determination coupled with an unbearable loss. Although it has some insightful things to say about religion and the period - the descriptions of the Crucifixion are visceral - it has a universal message about the nature of loss. (Stuart Kelly Scotland on Sunday)

This novel is the Virgin's version of the life of Christ. After a lifetime listening to everyone else's versions of that life, she is angry and frustrated because they are all questionable. (Irish Independent)

Toibin has created an impressive work of religious imagination...haunting, highly original. (TLS)

Beautifully crafted (The Times)

Fearsomely strange, deeply thoughtful (Guardian)

With deceptively modest prose, Tóibín presents the Virgin Mary's story as one of human loss rather than salvation. By doing so he gives us a Mary to identify with rather than venerate. (Metro)

Daring and very moving (John Banville "Books of the Year", Irish Times)

The Testament of Mary, a novella of absences and silences, achieves a shimmering power (Joseph O'Connor Irish Times, "Books of the Year")

Tóibín's take on the most famous mother in history ... is all too believable (Financial Times, "Books of the Year")

Finely written (Spectator 'Books of the Year')

Channels the memories of the Virgin Mary into a subversive tour de force of economy and
lacerating style

(Roy Foster TLS 'Books of the Year')

Stands out for its bold conception and blazingly brilliant execution (Claire Harman TLS 'Books of the Year')

A miniature masterpiece (Marina Warner TLS 'Books of the Year')

The miracles are real, but unsettling and sinister; Toibin's writing can be stunning beautiful; another should-have from this year's Booker shortlist (Kate Saunders The Times 'Books of the Year')

Toibin's short, powerful book offers itself up as an additional gospel (Gaby Wood Telegraph 'Books of the Year')

About the Author

Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy in 1955. He is the author of nine novels including The Master, Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary and Nora Webster. His work has been shortlisted for the Booker three times, has won the Costa Novel Award and the Impac Award. His most recent novel is House of Names. He has also published two collections of stories and many works of non-fiction. He lives in Dublin.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As you probably know, this is a short book. It was long-listed for the Booker despite being approximately 30,000 words long. No problem if they're the right words.

Unfortunately, for this reader, rather a lot of the 30,000 words seemed superfluous. How can this be? Surely an author of Toibin's standing, with Penguin as his publisher and supplying his highly-skilled editor, would not have let this happen? Well, IMHO, they have. The first 6,000 (or so) words I found to be, frankly, uninteresting internal waffling by the eponymous Mary: the last 4,000 a wearisome reprise of the waffle at the beginning.

The book begins at the bottom of p23 and ends at the bottom of page 93. Between those two points it is marvellous, and I consumed it at a sitting, agog. Thus I am very pleased that I slogged on and finally left the porridge behind and got to the jam in the middle.

But why the looong intro and scarcely less long outro? perhaps Toibin and Penguin suffer from the same problem as the rest of us: a story has an intrinsic length, which is not necessarily a saleable length. So, how to publish material that is less than book length? Even if a volume of short stories was mooted (Toibin's name would make this a viable project) I quite see that the strength of the 20,000 words in the middle of this story could overpower such a collection. I also quite see that the Booker people are keen to give the prize to Toibin, to whom it is definitely due for the body of his work. But in 2013 he was not robbed. In truth, I am surprised that he made it to the long list.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this novella by Colm Toibin in two sittings but could easily have done it in one. New to this author's work, I was really impressed by Colm's writing which flows with effortless ease and makes me want to explore his other works. A truly beautiful work of art which will be reread no doubt a number of times. Would strongly recommend to others - you won't be disappointed!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
No evidence for the story, as far as I am aware, so Christians should not be offended. However, it is a vivid reinterpretation of the New Testament.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Big disappointment.
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Format: Paperback
There are a lot of issues that those familiar with the Scriptures could throw at this book. As Mary lives out the end of her days, exiled near Ephesus, tormented with her son's terrible end, and highly dubious as to his being the Son of God, it repeatedly occurred to me : what about the Annunciation? the miracle of the Virgin Birth?
But stop for a moment. Put your arguments on one side and consider that we don't really know anything about Mary's feelings or thoughts, and read this as a work of fiction - and an immensely powerful one it is.
The atmosphere of the crucifixion is stunningly drawn - the fear of being the next one arrested by the Romans if you get too close. The description of the raising of Lazarus too is vivid, if highly debatable. And Toibin's take on the weddding at Cana: 'I went to Cana not to celebrate the joining together with much clamour of two people..but to see if I could get my son home.'
Absolutely exquisite read.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a short novel, and for me every single word is as it should be. I cannot praise this book highly enough; the voice of Mary is so clear, so profoundly truthful, and the story she tells, known and unknown, is compelling in every way. I read this book in a day, and I would have read it in one sitting if I didn't have coursework to do; still, I could barely put it down. The narrative is soft I felt, despite the cruelty, the brutality. In my mind there were pictures of the heat and the ochre hills and the olive trees, muted and yet there is also the pain that Mary feels, and it is real. There are passages which we have heard versions of, and the pure pleasure of matching Mary's memory to the other stories we've been told, to find out how she saw it, experienced.
I strongly recommend this book, as it is a beautiful read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wanted to read this book as, any subject matter relating to the life Mary is one which I was very interested in. However, I could not engage with Colm Toibin's portrayal of Mary in this novella.
Not only does it distort the chronological events of the life of Jesus (who, along with the disciples, are never mentioned by name),
Lazarus dies before the wedding at Cana occurs, and at the wedding at Cana, Mary claims "my son was wearing rich clothes and he was moving as though the clothes belonged to him as of right". No room for the humility of Christ here. There is no account of how it is Mary herself who urges her son to intervene when the wedding party run out of wine or how she reveals her confidence in His miraculous power when she says to the servants, "do whatever he asks of you", and Jesus is obedient to his mother.
In Toibin's text, Mary describes the disciples as 'misfits' and idiotic', whereas the character of Mary is suspicious, argumentative, judgemental, rightly fearful, but very different from the many positive gospel descriptions written regarding her. This is designed for us to see Mary in a different light, as a "real" woman suffering the loss of her son.
For example, because one of the men (a disciple?) was going to sit in a chair, which clearly was of special significance to Mary, in the text Toibin describes how.... she reached for a knife and said... "Do not think for a moment that I will not use this".
In another section Mary said:
"I bought a small statue of the goddess who lifted my spirits", which gives reference to Mary worshiping a pagan figure.
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