Newest Review: ... if she was justly committed all those years ago. As their relationship gradually unfolds we also learn a little about Dr Grene and his ... more
A very good but tragic novel
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
Member Name: cerys82
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
Advantages: An interesting story well told
Disadvantages: Ending is slightly satisfactory
The Secret Scripture was recommended to me by a friend and won the Costa Book Awards main prize in 2008.
It tells the story of Roseanne but in two different ways.
Essentially Roseanne is reaching her 100th birthday in a psychiatric hospital in Ireland. She has been there for many decades and fearing that her last days are upon her she begins to write down her life story, that is her life before she arrived at this hospital. She writes down about her family, particularly her father who is intrinsically linked to a lot of tragedy in Sligo where she grew up. On blossoming into womanhood she finds herself exceptionally vulnerable to the advances and prejudices of the time, politics and the men around her - a path that will lead her to this hospital bed.
Alongside this we meet the hospital's psychiatrist Dr Grene. Grene has his own demons and tragedy in his personal life. When it is announced that the hospital is to be shut down and demolished he is tasked with establishing the personal histories of his patients, many of whom like Roseanne have been there for decades with no real indication of why they were placed there in the first place as those who would know are long dead and the files are no longer present or difficult to find.
He takes a particular interest in Roseanne, particularly due to the fact that he suspect s that there are secrets and a mystery to be uncovered. He is unaware that she is is secretly writing down her lifestory for posterity and she is unforthcoming verbally with information and so begins his own investigation.
I have to say that this is a very interesting novel which stays with you after reading. It is beautifully and passionately written and really atmospheric. A troubled and poor 1930's rural Ireland is very well portrayed as is the injustices that Roseanne faces as a woman in a time of little money, political turmoil , high morals and where the church reigns supreme.
There are some shocking and very tragic events which are written about in such a matter-of-fact way through Roseanne's jaded voice that I had to go back a couple of times to check that what happened was what I really thought they had happened because they are so horrific!
The dual way in which Roseanne's story is told is probably the most interesting element of the book. We get quite a way into Roseanne's recollection before we learn of Grene's findings. That is, there is the obvious conflict that you would get from a person's recollection versus written records of events of that time, alongside the notion of the unreliable narrator. When you throw into the mix, the fact that those who have produced the only official records of Roseanne's history may also not be trusted you have quite a complex plot developing. However, it never feels overboiled or confusing, rather it trusts the reader to firstly take Roseanne's story at face value, and then question it back and forth as more information becomes available, well at least up to a point.
Unfortunately, the long lasting impact of the book is somewhat lessened by a silly plot twist at the end. In essence, I should have perhaps have guessed it before I did - looking back there aren't so much hints to it as there are flashing neon signs, but I guess I was wrapped up in the engrossing writing and the fact that I trusted the author to not take liberties with the story that he had so wonderfully painted that I did not expect such an obvious and glaring plot device to be used. It is a shame really as there is enough suspense and intrigue here that the author did not need to resort to it. It is as though Barry had perhaps lost confidence in how to end the story and was worried about leaving stones unturned, as it is he should not have worried as it is the loose ends that make this story so intriguing.
However, for the most part this is a very engrossing and involving story that I would not hesitate in recommending for a good read.
Summary: A tragic family history novel that i would recommend