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The Secret Scripture Hardcover – June 12, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The latest from Barry (whose A Long Way was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker) pits two contradictory narratives against each other in an attempt to solve the mystery of a 100-year-old mental patient. That patient, Roseanne McNulty, decides to undertake an autobiography and writes of an ill-fated childhood spent with her father, Joe Clear. A cemetery superintendent, Joe is drawn into Ireland's 1922 civil war when a group of irregulars brings a slain comrade to the cemetery and are discovered by a division of Free-Staters. Meanwhile, Roseanne's psychiatrist, Dr. Grene, investigating Roseanne's original commitment in preparation for her transfer to a new hospital, discovers through the papers of the local parish priest, Fr. Gaunt, that Roseanne's father was actually a police sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. The mysteries multiply when Roseanne reveals that Fr. Gaunt annulled her marriage after glimpsing her in the company of another man; Gaunt's official charge was nymphomania, and the cumulative fallout led to a string of tragedies. Written in captivating, lyrical prose, Barry's novel is both a sparkling literary puzzle and a stark cautionary tale of corrupted power. (June)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* From the first page, Barry’s novel sweeps along like the Garravogue River through Sligo town, taking “the rubbish down to the seas, and bits of things that were once owned by people and pulled from the banks, and bodies, too, if rarely, oh, and poor babies, that were embarrassments, the odd time.” We are in the head and the journal of 100-year-old “mad” Roseanne McNulty, locked up for decades in an asylum in rural west Ireland. She has begun writing her life story, hiding it nightly beneath her bedroom’s creaking floorboards. Simultaneously, her putative therapist, Dr. Grene, who barely knows her, much less her history or prognosis, begins an observation journal about her. The asylum is to be downsized, and he must determine whether she is sane enough to live on her own. He attempts to reconstruct the reasons for her imprisonment, as it turns out to be, and that pitches the novel into the dark depths of Ireland’s civil war and the antiwoman proscriptions on sexuality of the national regime Joyce famously called “priestridden.” Barry weaves together Grene’s and Roseanne’s stories, which are ultimately the same story, masterfully and with intense emotionality that nevertheless refuses to become maudlin. Another notable part of Barry’s artistry is the sheer poetry of his prose, now heart-stoppingly lyrical, now heart-poundingly thrilling. An unforgettable portrait of mid-twentieth-century Ireland. --Patricia Monaghan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st edition (June 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670019402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670019403
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (162 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #598,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His play, The Steward of Christendom, first produced in 1995, won many awards and has been seen around the world. His novel, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, appeared in 1998. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

Customer Reviews

I have slowed down toward the end of the book as I want to savor each remaining page.
The writing is lyrical and beautiful; the characters fully developed and believable; and, the story haunting.
Cathy Los Angeles
For some the ending is too melodramatic, the narrator too unreliable, the plot too unconvincing.
M. Feldman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In his distinctly Irish novel, set in County Sligo and Roscommon, a mental institution, a perhaps century old woman, Roseanne Cleary McNulty, pens a diary of her long life, which she hides in her room under the floorboards. Retrieving the notebook only when it's safe, Roseanne reveals a deeply loving relationship with a father who dies far too young and a mother who withdraws over time into the solitude of a troubled mind. Presbyterians, the Cleary's are an anomaly in Catholic Sligo, Joe Cleary dominating the landscape of his daughter's formative years. Reeling from his death and her mother's complete disinterest in the world around her, Roseanne is a naïve young woman, unprepared for what awaits, falling quickly in love with Tom McNulty. Tom and his brothers, and their domineering mother are the faces of the stubborn, loyal Irish rebels who spend their years fighting for independence, closing ranks against outsiders.

Much at work in Roseanne's life is a priest, Father Gaunt, a man invested in his own arrogance and misogyny, who visits his hatred and mistrust of women on the innocent Roseanne. It is through Gaunt's efforts that Roseanne's marriage to Tom is ruined, no one of consequence to protect the girl, left staggering at the blows fate has dealt. Having been institutionalized for over half her life at the time she writes her memoirs, the remarkable thing about this character, as so beautifully rendered by Barry, is her inherent generosity of spirit and disinclination to harsh judgment of those who have wronged her. And while Roseanne is writing of her father and her marriage, Dr. Grene is charged with determining the future placement of his patient, Roscommon soon to be vacated and completely demolished.
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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By E.B. on June 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are tragedies flung at us by the gods such as hurricanes and earthquakes. Then there are those tragedies visited upon us by ourselves. This is a tale of the latter.
In dark and gorgeous language Barry tells the story of an old woman, Roseanne McNulty. From childhood Roseanne was set on a path that inexorably led her to stray outside the strict conventions of 1940s Ireland. Unwittingly, she becomes the victim of a merciless society bent on rigid conformity and determined to exact its revenge on those who flout its dictates. For those whose picture of Ireland in the "old days" is one of rose-covered thatched cottages, the revelation that so much pain resided behind the walls of many of those dwellings may come as an unpleasant surprise. But those of us who have lived in Ireland and particularly have witnessed its relatively recent confrontation with so many of the dark secrets of its past, Roseanne's tale has the gut-wrenching but undeniable claim of authenticity.
Barry summons the voice of Roseanne perfectly. As the narrative gradually shifts from Roseanne to the psychiatrist, Dr. Grene, who has tasked himself with the mission to discover the elusive truth about Roseanne's past, Barry also captures Grene and his mid-life turbulences beautifully. This is not a plot-driven novel which is just as well: my only complaint is that I found the plot, such as it is, to require some hard work by the reader in suspending disbelief. But it is a minor matter in a book that concerns itself with issues such as history, mercy and the very nature of truth. In the end, Barry's characters eloquently present the argument that redemption is indeed possible.
I stongly recommend this book.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Skye Hye on November 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
Before she died, my 98 year old grandmother, sinking into the bog of dementia, said to me: Everyone sees this ancient skin, wrinkled, my fingers bent and swollen, my hair falling to nothing, but I am a girl inside this skin. I feel exactly the same in my mind and my heart as I did at twenty.

I never forgot it, and now that my time is coming and my own skin thinning, I understand exactly what she meant.

This novel about the enduring power of the human spirit in the face of unrelenting tragedy and betrayal, struck me to the heart. I found it incredibly moving and was riveted to the page.

There is something about being a survivor that wounds you, takes away whole pieces of you, but despite the pain and horror, makes each small aspect of life a triumph. For Rosanne, it was the daffoldils and the roses, and the sunlight on her window pane, for others, a sunset, the pleasure of an ice cream cone in summer, the smell of just cut grass. I saw a fox in the dark night when I was driving through the village last week; it had another small animal in its mouth, trotting merrily past the pavement in front of me. I had never seen a fox before. I felt so lucky, so deliriously happy, to have seen it, as Rosanne felt with the new opening daffoldils from her window in the assylum.

To see this beauty and feel this intense pleasure in ordinary things is a triumph over the brutality and ugliness that living in society can bring, as is the ability to retain one's humanity - kindness, compassion, understanding, empathy. To see the world in a grain of sand....
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