Mother Mary

Paul Bailey reviews Colm Tóibín's latest novella, The Testament of Mary, and finds himself drawn to its heterodox but gripping portrayal of the mother of Jesus:

Tóibín's commonsensical Mary is possessed of many virtues, high among which is the capacity to doubt. She is instinctively a sceptic when pondering the behaviour of other people, including the men and women who besought her son to perform miracles. … Will this book upset, or even enrage, the thousands of Christians of all denominations who believe that the Virgin Mary is sacrosanct? It certainly failed to offend me, since the portrait this always scrupulous novelist presents is of a loving person who cannot bear the notion that the son she raised and nurtured should be so barbarically sacrificed for the world that was, the world that is, and the world that's yet to come. She writes, you might say, with the authority of loss. She stands for every grieving parent in history, mystified by the cruel fate meted out to her only child.