It started with Brooklyn, passed on to me as a holiday read. I had read short stories but could not really say that I knew him.
Brooklyn, a love affair, a book of relationships, of loneliness and longing and probably duty too, is beautifully written. Having just been to New York for a significant birthday I felt I had a feel for the place, although much changed since the setting of the book.
When we breezed into New York library on our iconic buildings tour who should be being interviewed but the renowned author himself. Interesting, amusing and charming. He was speaking of the Testament of Mary, which we bought and had signed.
I suspected it would be sensationalist. It isn’t . Not in the least. Poignant and delicate it imagines a mother’s relationship with her son.
That Toibin chose to write of the mother of God and make her not the sweet archetypal mother nor the Virgin Saint , oh purest o loving oh sweet Virgin Mary, but rather a feisty old woman, imbued with quiet rage, pushed to the limit by fear and what she has lived through, is far more satisfying for a one time believer, perhaps, even, more convincing.
That Mary could not accept her son’s claim to be the Son of God, that she did not approve of his followers, his misfits unable to look a woman in the eye, is challenging in the religious sense but far more plausible in mother and son terms.
It is a great read, a great book, and a truly original take on an historical account. Toibin only has the gospels to go on, as we do, but this seems far more honest.
Henry Moore’s picture Four Figures in a Setting makes me think of that Mary, (Or is it the other way about?) alternately praying or fearful or holding her self together as she goes about her quiet days in Ephesus protected and threatened by two unnamed evangelists.