Saturday, October 12, 2013

Testimony of Mary and John Waters

An extraordinary article by John Waters appeared in The Irish Times yesterday [Friday 11 October] on Colm Toibin's novella, The Testimony of Mary, which has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.   In it Waters says he believes it vitally important for Ireland and Irish culture that the book wins because then 'we may be unable to continue ignoring, as we have done, what the book demands we address'.

In his book, Toibin paints the Virgin Mary as an old woman, unhappy and angry, and at odds with two evangelists who want her to confirm their account of the life and death of her son.   Waters claims that Toibin in no sense crosses the line into fantasy but writes of facts.   If he does, then he has a unique communication with the Almighty as there are no known 'facts' about Mary's life after the death of Jesus.

I have no argument with Toibin who writes beautifully as always but rather with Waters' assertion that it presents a challenge to believers.  It is difficult to see why any work of fiction should do so, much less cause them to jettison their beliefs.   Waters writing is opaque and even confusing.   He claims the book 'throws down a gauntlet to the very method of our reasoning, and drops into a cultural moment when a sense of the strangeness of everyday reality has become lost to the extent that anything beyond the banal nowadays seems implausible'?   Waters considers that we have, so to speak, hunkered down in a bunker we have built to 'inhabit and behold the world from'.   If by that he means that we have become unquestioning of our faith and reluctant to face the bigger existential questions out there, he is gravely mistaken for I firmly believe, through my own experience, that issues of faith and morals are very much alive and being debated widely.  For example, figures published recently show that the biggest turnouts at referenda were on moral issues.

Toibin has said, according to Waters, that his interest was not in what people nowadays believe but in the mind and heart of Mary at that moment.   I find myself less challenged and more saddened by his version.

Read it for yourself at

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