I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this book. It’s barely over a hundred pages. I’m a great fan of Tóibín’s writing. I love “The Story of the Night” and “The Master.” Plus “Brooklyn” was a total revelation to me. As I was reading it I kept thinking ‘this is all very nice, but where is it going?’ Then, suddenly, two-thirds of the way through the book the protagonist must make a huge decision as if she’s balancing on a knife-edge and it is so incredibly gripping and emotional I couldn’t put the book down. So I’m always ready to cut Tóibín a lot of slack and follow through to the end of any book he writes. This doesn’t always pay off. His non-fiction book “Love in a Dark Time” starts off beautifully, but by the time he gets into his experiences with Almodovar it tails off into something much less substantial. However, the prospect of reading Mary’s perspective of her son’s crucifixion had so much promise I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this novella.
Here’s the trouble now that I’ve finished it: I don’t have very strong feelings about it one way or the other. It’s beautifully written and I admire the stoic dignity he gives to Mary as she refuses to capitulate to the disciples who harangue her and ask her threateningly to validate and endorse their accounts/interpretation of her son’s life. The story follows faithfully along the other accounts giving us Mary’s own unique perspective on Lazarus coming back from the dead, water being turned into wine at a wedding and the political machinations which led to the crucifixion. The book grabbed me most when Mary confesses how she really acted upon seeing her son being tortured, nailed to the cross and left for dead. Also, her painful remembrance of her lost husband is striking. However, the book moved too quickly for me to really become involved with Mary and her story. Maybe if I was a believer I’d feel more passionately involved as it might raise feelings of anger or love towards Mary’s controversial version of the story. Above all it’s a tremendously sympathetic account of how Mary might have felt about being the mother of a man hailed as the messiah. I enjoyed the beauty of Tóibín’s prose, but it hasn’t made much of an impression on me. Perhaps when I reread this book it will strike more of an emotional chord. It seems to me to be a book that would be better read in one sitting when it’s quiet and very late at night.