Once upon a time, when her son was little, Mary loved her husband and was happy (ish). Now she is an old woman – widowed, bitter, grumpy, humourless, living in the past, uninterested in anything, unable to say thank you for help, and feeling manipulated by the unnamed friends of Jesus who want to hear her stories of him. Her love for Jesus (Jesus’ brothers and sisters, mentioned in both Matthew and Mark, don't appear) became a controlling one; she resented him going off to the city, and wanted him back home. She had no interest in his ideas or his abilities to heal, and no pride in his achievements; she was sceptical about his ability to perform miracles, and even when faced with incontrovertible evidence of them, such as Lazarus’ return from the dead, remained unimpressed and uninquisitive. At the crucifixion, she became scared for her own safety and accepted help from a friend of Jesus’ but gave no thanks for it.
All this makes Mary very frustrating for the reader, because she answers none of the questions that, like her guardians, we want to ask. What did she think of Mary Magdalene’s relation with Jesus? What about when he went into the desert? Why did she never want to see the tomb? Why is she so incurious about the mystery of the shared dream? Who is she relating all this to, and why? And why is she so narrow-minded? She’s vague about almost everything. Characters are often unnamed, scenes usually have an unspecific and unsatisfactory quality. Where explanations are given, they’re not very credible. Her narration is also a bit weird - in a peculiarly formal register, she uses ‘will not’ and ‘has not’ (rather than won’t and hasn’t); and sometimes gives herself poetic airs: “I am being led into this strange place of souls, along great narrow bridges spanning gurgling, steaming water, like lava in the dying glow, with island meadows filled with vital growth below.” While when she makes Jesus speak, it’s in King James, with ‘ye’s and ‘thou’s. She’s also often anachronistic and historically suspect.
For me, all this frustration with the narrating character turned into a frustration with the book. It’s such a great idea, having Mary narrate her own story, and yet it was such a let-down.