Many of the novels on the Booker Prize shortlist are quite short this year. This one is 82 pages long. It is about a woman who needs no introduction, so that is perhaps why Toibin can get away with it. This is written from the perspective of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.
In my opinion Toibin has brought her to life in a way nobody else has. He has shown her as a normal human mother with normal emotions. She reflects on her son’s life and shows sadness that his career as a political agitator in Roman-occupied Ephesus (the town where Jesus was crucified, for the heathens) will undoubted lead to his death.
She feels held captive by the disciples, who have begun to write the bible already in this novel. They interview her and various other people who apparently were not really witnesses to some of Jesus’ miracles. She tells mainly of Lazarus being brought back from the dead, and how many of the people who talk about it had not seen this miracle performed in person. Likewise the walking on water incident.
She is a mother who loves her son, but at some points she seems saddened and frustrated by his “high flown talk and riddles,” which I can empathise with. In the end, after he has been crucified (spoiler alert), his disciples tell her that he has saved the world, and died for us all. She does not consider it worth it, but which mother would?