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The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
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The Secret Scripture (2008)

by Sebastian Barry

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Roseanne McNulty has lived nearly a century, and spent much of her adult life in a home for the mentally ill. As officials prepare to relocate to a new facility, the staff must assess and place each resident in the appropriate level of care. Records pertaining to Roseanne's case are scarce, so Dr William Grene visits her almost daily, attempting through their conversations to piece together her story and understand events that resulted in her being sent to live there. At the same time, Roseanne spends her days documenting her history in a journal that she stores beneath the floorboards. The Secret Scripture shifts between these two narrators, with Roseanne's story anchored in early 20th century Ireland, and Grene's in the present day.

Roseanne came of age in the wake of the Troubles, and her life's course was heavily influenced both by the Catholic-Protestant divide, and attitudes towards women and their place in society. Although Roseanne was Presbyterian, the local Catholic priest was a powerful force, and intervened in her affairs on numerous occasions -- usually with ill effects. More details of Roseanne's life are spoilerish, but let's just say the church doesn't come off well here.

Meanwhile, Grene is dealing with his own problems and sadness, and tries valiantly to soldier on in his work. His character was somewhat less developed than Roseanne's, and I often wished for more of his back story. My wish was granted near the end of the book in a way that I didn't see coming, and yet in hindsight strikes me as rather predictable. Despite a rather neat tying up of loose ends, I found Roseanne's story both compelling and moving. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | Dec 20, 2014 |
Very clever, and very Irish, with some beautiful passages. The notion of a 99 year old Irish woman writing a secret memoir of her life after being institutionalized for 50 years is a little - hoary? - but if you are willing to "buy" that conceit, there's a lot to enjoy here.

"I am beginning to wonder strongly what is the nature of history. Is it only memory in decent sentences, and if so, how reliable is it? I would suggest, not very. And that therefore most truth and fact offered by these syntactical means is treacherous and unreliable. And yet I recognize that we live our lives, and even keep our sanity, by the lights of this treachery and this unreliability, just as we build our love of country on these paper worlds of misapprehension and untruth. Perhaps this is our nature, and perhaps unaccountably it is part of our glory as a creature, that we can build our best and most permanent buildings on foundations of utter dust." ( )
  yooperprof | Nov 3, 2014 |
Although I would admit the writing was quite wonderful, I found the first two thirds of this book rather tedious if not boring. It was only in the last third of the book that I felt truly absorbed in the characters and the story. I don't think I could really recommend this book as I know most readers do not have the patience to wade through the bulk of this book to get to the "good" part. ( )
  bibliophileofalls | Sep 18, 2014 |
The ending was a bit of a let down like others have mentioned. The words though, the style... they roll of your tongue and envelop you with the Irish lilt. For me, it is like going home even though I have never been there. ( )
  ChewDigest | Sep 12, 2014 |
The ending was a bit of a let down like others have mentioned. The words though, the style... they roll of your tongue and envelop you with the Irish lilt. For me, it is like going home even though I have never been there. ( )
  ChewDigest | Sep 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 113 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
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
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For Margaret Synge
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The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say.
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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.

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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:51 -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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