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The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

The Secret Scripture (2008)

by Sebastian Barry

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: McNulty Family (4)

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The Secret Scripture - Barry
Audio performance by Wanda McCaddon
5 stars

“Memory, I must suppose, if it is neglected becomes like a box room, or a lumber room in an old house, the contents jumbled about, maybe not only from neglect but also from too much haphazard searching in them, and things to boot thrown in that don't belong there.”

“For history as far as I can see is not the arrangement of what happens, in sequence and in truth, but a fabulous arrangement of surmises and guesses held up as a banner against the assault of withering truth.”

Roseanne McNulty is approaching her 100th birthday. She has a story to tell, but she’s doesn’t want to talk about it. Not really. She certainly doesn’t want to answer questions. She’s keeping a journal, a secret scripture. She’s one very sharp old lady, is Roseanne McNulty, but the question is, is she sane? What kind of an unreliable narrator is she?

For more than forty years, Roseanne has been confined in the Roscommon Regional Medical Hospital. The decaying psychiatric hospital facility is about to be closed, decertified and destroyed. While Roseanne writes her personal history, her secret scripture, her psychiatrist tries to determine when and why she was committed. Was she truly insane, or was her confinement another hidden atrocity of political and social abuse?

So the story is told in two voices, Roseanne and her psychiatrist, Dr. Grene. I loved Roseanne immediately. She does tell her story and remember events in a way that allows her to survive. Not always factually reliable; there are gaps that leave the reader (me) still wondering about exactly what happened and who was responsible. I’m not as forgiving as Roseanne McNulty. Dr. Grene was less endearing. I found him whiny and ineffectual. He was more tolerable in written form than in the audiobook. Wanda McCaddon is not my favorite voice artist. I usually avoid her, but she was perfect for Roseanne McNulty, just perfect. She was totally wrong for Dr. Grene . They needed a male voice for that part.

There’s wonderful, wonderful, writing in this book; powerful images, vibrant characters, lyrical prose. Roseanne was a marginally educated, Protestant, Irish woman during the 20th century. She is relating her childhood, her traumatic losses, her young adulthood. She doesn’t always have access to accurate information. Children are not told the real reasons for the bad things that happen. Trauma and time distorts memory. Without dates given or exposition on the historical events of the time, Sebastian Barry relates the effects of political and social upheavals from the first person perspective of a powerless individual. It works; Roseanne McNulty is a character that lives beyond the author’s pen. Powerless she may have been, but what a survivor! ( )
  msjudy | Mar 28, 2017 |
I listened to the recorded version of Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. This novel was short-listed for the Booker Prize when it was published and the narrator was as good as the plot and characters. This was one Booker nominee that deserved the nomination. Not all of the violence of the Irish Civil Wars was with guns and guerrillas. Some of it was more subtle than that. This novel concentrates on that subtlety. In this case the violence was aimed at a Protestant woman living in a predominately Catholic area who runs afoul of the Catholic Church. The novel illustrates the power the church wielded in the lives of the ordinary Irish population and how this power was misused to further the cause of the church. It seems that the misuse of the religious club might have been more egregious in Ireland due to the fear of reprisal either politically or socially and the recent exposure of the misuse of this power (the laundry scandals and the forced or coerced removal of babies from mothers) means that it is more than fiction. This novel is about how this misuse of power changed forever the life of a beautiful young woman leaving her institutionalized for most of her life for no reason. ( )
  benitastrnad | Jan 27, 2017 |
I must take a short break from this book while we travel next week. I'd recommend reading it rather than listening if you find a hearty Irish accent hard to understand. The story is full of charming expressions that make me smile.

When I got back to the book, the library gave me a print version instead of the CD, which was great. I enjoyed reading it and understood more than I had listening, although I missed the splendid voice inflections and tones of the reader.

A woman who is around 100 years old and in an institution decides to write about her life, and an unusual life it was. The reader is treated to mores and attitudes of the time when this lady was a girl and young woman. She had a difficult life, made more so by various characters, a priest, politics, and more. Her long-time doctor at the institution has tried to coax her to talk about her life, but she doesn't. She keeps her "diary" under a floor board. Nearer the end of the book, we learn how complex the web of relationships is. Do our memories serve us well? You decide.

( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
Despite the four stars, I have mixed feelings about this book. It has a very old-fashioned feeling, despite taking place in the 1990s. There is a coincidence or two of major eye rolling proportion. But I was completely taken in by the writing, the emotion, and the wonderful character of of Roseanne. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
'the one thing that is fatal in the reading of impromptu history is a wrongful desire for accuracy. There is no such thing'
By sally tarbox on 5 April 2012
Format: Paperback
Beautifully written novel; two journals are interposed- one that of a 100 year old woman in an Irish mental hospital, the other that of her doctor who has his own demons.
Taking us vividly to the troubled times in early 20th century Ireland, the killings, the power of the Catholic church, Barry has created an unputdownable read.
I felt it was spoilt, though, by the ending which pulled everything too nicely together and which is obvious to the reader quite a while before it happens.
'We like to characterise humanity as savage, lustful and basic, but that is to make strangers of everyone. We are not wolves, but lambs astonished in the margins of the fields by sunlight and summer.' ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barry, SebastianAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hogan, StephenReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCaddon, WandaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenbloom, MiriamCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The greatest imperfection is in out inward sight that is to be ghosts unto our own eyes.
--Sir Thomas Browne Christian Morals

Of the numbers who study or at least read history, how few derive any advantage from their labours! . . . Besides there is much uncertainty even in the best authenticated ancient and modern histories; and that love of truth, which in some minds is innate and immutable, necessarily leads to a love of secret memoirs and private anecdotes.
--Maria Edgeworth, Preface to Castle Rackrent
For Margaret Synge
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The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Nearing her one-hundredth birthday, Roseanne McNulty faces an uncertain future, as the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital where she's spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure. Over the weeks leading up to this upheaval, she talks often with her psychiatrist Dr. Grene, and their relationship intensifies and complicates. Told through their respective journals, the story that emerges is at once shocking and deeply beautiful. Refracted through the haze of memory and retelling, Roseanne's story becomes an alternative, secret history of Ireland's changing character and the story of a life blighted by terrible mistreatment and ignorance, and yet marked still by love and passion and hope.

Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143115693, Paperback)

An epic story of family, love, and unavoidable tragedy from the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist

Sebastian Barry 's novels have been hugely admired by readers and critics, and in 2005 his novel A Long Long Way was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In The Secret Scripture, Barry revisits County Sligo, Ireland, the setting for his previous three books, to tell the unforgettable story of Roseanne McNulty. Once one of the most beguiling women in Sligo, she is now a resident of Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital and nearing her hundredth year. Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, The Secret Scripture is an engrossing tale of one woman's life, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic church had on individuals throughout much of the twentieth century.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:09 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

This story pits two contradictory narratives against each other in an attempt to solve the mystery of a 100-year-old mental patient.

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