The Book of Mary – Questions to Discuss
by Gail Sidonie Sobat

  1. Throughout the novel, the voice of the protagonist changes from that of a fourteen-year-old to an elderly woman.  Does the voice evolve convincingly?  Does Mary lose any of her initial spunk by the novel’s conclusion?
  1. In The Book of Mary, how does Sobat manage, in Vern Thiessen’s words, “to keep one of her feet planted firmly in the past, one in the present, and her tongue planted firmly in her cheek”?
  1. The narrative of Mary’s life is peppered with biblical references, particularly from the four gospels.  Which can you recognize or identify?
  1. Why did the author choose to make Mary a wise-cracking, sex-obsessed, smart-mouthed teen?  Was it purely for shock value?  Why “sully” such an important religious figure?
  1. What is the most important moral issue with which Mary grapples in the narrative?
  1. How is The Book of Mary a novel about the importance of words, of telling stories, of women’s stories?
  1. The novel is divided into nine parts.  How do the titles reflect the narrative in each case?

    • Magnificat (Mary’s canticle or prayer in Luke I)
    • Matrimony (the state of being married, but a word with the interesting root of mater or mother)
    • Hysteria (excessive or uncontrollable emotional behaviour; a psychological diagnosis that was often attributed to women)
    • Eros (love and erotic desire, but also the creative love and the life force)
    • Metamorphé (the Greek word for tranfigure or “to change into another form”)
    • Epistles (letters written to a recipient, that may be part of exchanged correspondence)
    • Theotokos (Greek word meaning God-bearer or Mother of God)
    • Lacrimosa (Latin word for tearful, mourning, shedding tears)
  1. How does Sobat make a deliberate connection between Mary and the notion of Sophia (the final part of The Book of Mary)?  

    Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom, but is also a divine goddess sometimes described as the feminine of God, God’s co-partner or synonymous with God; in early Christianity Sophia was a metaphor for Christ.

    From Gnosticism, Christianity, and Sophia:

    [Sophia’s] personality is riddled with contradictions. She is at once creator and created; teacher and that which is to be taught; divine presence and elusive knowledge; tempting harlot and faithful wife; sister, lover, and mother; both human and divine. Her very existence thus deconstructs all traditional binary relationships, as if she were the creation of Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray or some other modern feminist theorist. Frequently Sophia defies the feminine norm established by society. As Virginia Mollenkott writes in The Divine Feminine, Sophia ‘is a woman but no lady’ (Mollenkott 98). We see her crying aloud at street corners, raising her voice in the public squares, offering her saving counsel to anybody who will listen to her. Wisdom's behavior runs directly counter to the socialization of a proper lady, who is taught to be rarely seen and even more rarely heard in the sphere of public activity. (Mollenkott 98)
  1. How is The Book of Mary on many levels a love story?
  1. How is The Book of Mary a novel about transgression?  When is transgression justified?
  1. How are women and women’s relationships essential to the life and the lifework of Mary?  Of Jesus? 
  1. Is The Book of Mary a sacrilegious text?