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Mary given a voice at last in the greatest story ever told

The Virgin Mary tells her own story in Colm Toibin's controversial new novel to be published next week.

The Testament Of Mary offers a visceral view that Catholics will find both disturbing and illuminating - as it reveals Mary as a human being for the first time.

In the novel, Mary, now an old woman living in exile and in fear, tells her own story in her own voice, which is both tender and filled with rage.

The Testament Of Mary tells both the horror story of the crucifixion, the cataclysmic event that changed Mary's life forever, and of the events that followed as she battled to cope with her overpowering grief.

For Mary, her son has been lost to the world, and now in her old age she is trying to piece together the memories of the events that led to his brutal death.

To her, Jesus was a vulnerable figure, surrounded by men who could not be trusted, living in a time of turmoil and change. As her life and her suffering begin to acquire the resonance of myth, Mary struggles to break the silence surrounding what she knows to have happened.

The novel describes her efforts to tell the truth in all its complexity and she slowly emerges as a figure of immense moral stature.

Toibin says that he sees his book as "a pure act of empathy".

He said: "(I was) trying to imagine what it would have been like for Mary and in doing that I found myself in a difficult space I didn't want to go into again, ever. Even reading it over was disturbing."

Mary thinks that many of those telling her son's story are self-serving and untrustworthy, including some of Jesus's disciples.

In the novel, we hear Mary's inner thoughts on the terrible scene she has witnessed, and her regret and guilt about not being able to help her son and having to leave before he had died.

This novel is the Virgin's version of the life of Christ. After a lifetime listening to everyone else's versions of that life, she is angry and frustrated because they are all questionable.