The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
This is another in a long line of alternate versions of the life of Jesus Christ. This one is written as if by Jesus’ mother, Mary.
As a book, it suffers from not being entirely sure what the author believes or wants us to believe. Does she — or does she not — believe in the divinity of her son? For most of the book, I would say she doesn’t, that she rejects his divinity and believes his death was avoidable and pointless. Not to mention horrible, painful and cruel beyond words.
By the end of the book, what Mary believes — or what the author would like us to believe — is abstruse, to say the least. My suspicion is that the author was either unclear where he stands, religiously speaking, or chickened out and decided it was safer to hedge his theological bets.
Whatever the reason, the lack of a clear point of view eventually made me wonder why I bothered to read it. It’s vivid, ugly, graphic and very confused.
In this genre, I have read many other books that are better written, including Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel and my all-time favorite, Frank Yerby‘s Judas, My Brother — out of print, but available used from Amazon.
Which brings me back to the question of why I purchased it. Simply put? I bought it because Audible had it on sale … and I was curious about Meryl Streep‘s narration.
I didn’t think much of the book and the narration didn’t improve the experience for me. Meryl Streep is a brilliant actor, not a brilliant narrator. As a narrator, she is a brilliant actor. She doesn’t get the difference between narrating and acting. It is, of course, a matter of taste, but since this is my review — in my opinion, she puts way too much passion into the narration. She doesn’t read the book. She acts it.
At no point could I forget the narration and hear the voice of the author. Never did the narration free me to become immersed in the story. Granted, the story itself wasn’t all that great, but a different narrator might have made it easier to get involved in the story.
Streep’s presence is very dominant. You will listen to her performance. If you like that sort of thing, Meryl Streep does a fine acting job, but to me, the best narration is one you don’t notice. I want to hear the author, not the narrator. If I’m conscious of a narrator, it’s a problem. Audiobooks are not theatre. They are books. Listening is another way to read, not radio drama.
I didn’t think the book was particularly good, even though it has gotten tons of publicity and is being touted from hither to yon. Of this genre, this is one of the weakest books I’ve read.
- What Is Truth? The Liars’ Gospel, by Naomi Alderman (teepee12.com)
- Meryl Streep narrates audiobook version of ‘Testament of Mary’ (upi.com)
- Jesus is having a moment in literary fiction (rawstory.com)