From the Telegraph:
Colm Tóibín’s contentious life of the mother of Jesus is the latest novel, following Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, to reimagine history from the perspective of a famous figure. Allan Massie reflects on how novelists forge the past into fiction.
We know very little about Mary, the mother of Jesus. A dozen or so sentences in the Gospels; that’s all. Of course, we know what she has become, what the Churches and artists have made of her. We have all seen countless Madonnas and Child; it is one of the most familiar and moving images of Christian art. We are also familiar with the Pietà, the grieving mother holding the broken body of her crucified son. But Mary herself, the woman behind these images? What was she like? What did she feel? Did she believe that her son, Jesus, was divine, God’s son as well as hers?
The question is one from which, for obvious reasons, the Churches have preferred to turn away. It is also one for which there can be no sure answer. History does not supply us with the evidence. Faith may take its place, but faith may be questioned. Now the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, cradle Catholic and lapsed Catholic, has written a novella, The Testament of Mary, her story in her own, imagined words. It is done sensitively and intelligently, though there will be some who think it should not have been done at all. I suppose that it would have been banned in the Republic if written in the years before scandal undermined the authority of the Church.