Review: The Secret Scripture

A beautiful cover, a beautiful story.

Short listed for the man Booker Prize 2008 and winner of the Costa Book of The Year 2008.

I enjoy reading award winner books, some I like some I find challenging to finish. This is a splendid story about a woman who is nearly 100 years old. Told in multiple voices, Dr. Greene is evaluating Roseanne who has been living in an asylum for years. Roseanne’s story is one of valor. As the pages turn we learn her life story, which is difficult (see the BN review below which provides a solid recap along with a good review).

Found myself caring for what would happen to Roseanne and couldn’t wait to hear the ending to her story. I loved the ending of this book.

Links of interest:
- Sebastian Barry may be the most exhilarating prose stylist in Irish fiction. His new book weaves together strands from Ireland's past -- and his own. Click here to read the complete article with
- He is a greatly admired figure and, unusually in Ireland, I haven't met anyone who doesn't like him - History and family fuse in the work of the hot tip for this year's Booker, Click here to read the complete article in the Guardian
- The Costa Book of the Year prize has been awarded to Sebastian Barry for his novel The Secret Scripture even though the judges found the book to be 'flawed'. Click here to read the complete article in the Telegraph
Type: Fiction, 320 pages, Trade paperback
Synopsis:A gorgeous new novel from the author of the Man Booker finalist A Long Long Way
As a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, as her hundredth year draws near, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and she decides to record the events of her life.
As Roseanne revisits her past, hiding the manuscript beneath the floorboards in her bedroom, she learns that Roscommon Hospital will be closed in a few months and that her caregiver, Dr. Grene, has been asked to evaluate the patients and decide if they can return to society. Roseanne is of particular interest to Dr. Grene, and as he researches her case he discovers a document written by a local priest that tells a very different story of Roseanne's life than what she recalls. As doctor and patient attempt to understand each other, they begin to uncover long-buried secrets about themselves.
Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, The Secret Scripture is an epic story of love, betrayal, and unavoidable tragedy, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on individual lives for much of the twentieth century.

BN.COM review: It is literary Irish fiction at its best. It records the past dominance of church in secular relations and the maltreatment of women in the hands of men. The story is heard in two voices the elderly Roseanne Mc Nulty a patient and Dr.Greene a psychiatrist. Roseanne is a very old woman who records her secret history in her secret journal and in vivid poetic prose. The doctor is forced to re-evaluate his patients in the asylum and see if they can be released into the community, therein lies the plot of the tale. Our purpose is to discover the reason for Roseanne's admission and in doing so we get a history of Irish life in Sligo in 1930. Dr. Greene too records his interviews with Roseanne. His voice is in a different more modern tone to hers. He is an independent impartial observer to her tale. Gentle not to upset her he teases information from her and so we are left to discover the truth for ourselves. The paradox of the imperfection of human memory as opposed to the factual written word is show here. She develops a wonderful relationship with the doctor based on empathy. He too is grieving the death of his wife and his own imperfection as being the ultimate healer. Roseanne was a beauty in her day living on the outskirts of society who has been maltreated by her community. By recording her tale she gives a voice to the woman who was institutionalized by priests and by society unjustly. In recording her annals she healed herself. She is not so much a victim as a survivor. While some were dismayed by the ending I enjoyed the novel for me it is a wonderful tale on compassionate, love, life and on human inter relations. It is story telling and dialogue at its best. What he records is important but equally so is his eloquent language.