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The Secret Scripture: A Novel Paperback – April 28, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 202 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Playwright Barry's touching novel turned plenty of heads upon its release, as an elderly mental patient documents her life and times in County Sligo, Ireland, while her doctor uncovers a remarkably different story of her existence. Wanda McCaddon's British dialect is no hindrance to her remarkable portrayal of protagonist Roseanne McNulty, as she leaps into character with a stunning, perfect Irish accent that captures every nuance of the West Coast dialect. McCaddon's performance is among the best of the year. Her believable portrayal is perfectly modulated and nuance-filled, creating a stunning listening experience. A Viking hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 31). (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; unknown edition (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143115693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143115694
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (202 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 4, 2008
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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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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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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