Sure, National Public Radio did not publish novelist Colm Toibin's novella, The Testament Of Mary; it was published last month by Scribner. But NPR seems to love it. No, make that: NPR really loves it! There was a very sympathetic November 13th feature, "'Testament Of Mary' Gives Fiery Voice To The Virgin", then a glowing November 14th review, "A Vengeful Virgin In 'The Testament Of Mary'", then an excerpt from the book, and (finally, for now) an interview with Toibin, "A New 'Testament' Told From Mary's Point Of View", posted today. I'm not sure how many NPR pieces there are about the Pope's new book, but I doubt it's more than three, at the very most.
What is Tolbin's gimmick? And, yes, it is a gimmick, no matter how literate, thoughtful, deep, anguished, and intellectual NPR tries to make it sound. Here are some of the pertinent bits of information, gleaned from the ever-informative NPR pieces:
In his new novel, The Testament of Mary, Irish writer Colm Toibin imagines Mary's life 20 years after the crucifixion. She is struggling to understand why some people believe Jesus is the son of God, and weighed down by the guilt she feels wondering what she might have done differently to alter — or ease — her son's fate.
Toibin grew up Catholic and, for a time, considered joining the priesthood. This changed upon his arrival at university, however, when exposure to new people and ideas soon led him to lose his faith. "I suppose I had been moving toward it without knowing," Toibin tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "but, yeah, it went very quickly."
It was around this time, too, that Toibin acknowledged his homosexuality. Growing up, he says, "there was no word for it," and he describes his feelings as "absolute confusion." It was after meeting an openly gay friend at university, he explains, that "I moved very gingerly from between being a very conservative boy from a small town and being out with some friends."
And from the review:
The work is pointedly not called a gospel — good news — but a testament — a giving witness to, an attestation. "I was there," she says. And, having seen the Crucifixion, the Mother of God tells the apostles: "I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it."
Much of the elegance of this novella comes from its language, which is poetic but spare, much like cryptic music of the Gospels. And, as in the Gospels, understatement and implication are used to great effect. Most expressively, the name "Jesus" is never used — not once. Neither is Christ. Instead, Mary calls him "my son" or "him" or even "the one who was here." Part of this is her pain — she cannot bear to say the name — but part of it is also a refusal to contribute to the narrative of the man named Jesus Christ.
Toibin leaves the most important questions unanswered: Did he cure the sick? Raise the dead? Turn water into wine? Mary only hears stories.
And from the author himself: