The acclaim that has greeted Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture
is varied and enthusiastic, and it's not hard to see why. When Frank McGuiness praised it for ‘raw, rough beauty’ and described Sebastian Barry's fiction as ‘unique’ and ‘magnificent’, this claim was no hostage to fortune; just a few sentences of the prose here will convince most readers of the justice of those words. As in the best-selling A Long Long Way
, Barry is concerned with the imperatives of telling a story, but in a literary form that is rich with both psychological understanding and a skilful conjuring of time and place.
Roseanne McNulty may (or may not) be on the point of nearing her 100th birthday -- but there is little certainty about this fact. In her twilight years, her destiny is uncertain, as the Roscommon Mental Hospital -- her home for so many years of her life -- is on the point of closing. As the fateful hour approaches, Roseanne spends her time of talking to her psychiatrist of many years, Dr Grene. The relationship between the two is strangely interdependent, and the doctor is also attempting to come to terms with the death of his wife. As we learn more about the two principal protagonists, we are presented with a rich and subtle picture of human relationships -- and the (often unintentional) damages that we all do to each other.
The form of the book consists of the separate journals of Roseanne and Dr Grene, and we gradually learn about Roseanne’s family in Sligo in the 1930s. What emergence is a poignant personal history; it is also a subtly ambitious picture of nothing less than the Irish psyche at a particular point in its history. There are echoes here of another great Irish chronicler of the human condition, William Trevor, and The Secret Scripture is no worse for that. --Barry Forshaw
'Barry was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker with A Long Long Way and, if there is any justice, can expect an equally strong showing this year.' -- Sunday Telegraph
'Exceptionally finely written ... [It] assembles a disquieting portrait of a woman destroyed by politics and misogyny.' -- Daily Telegraph
'In Roseanne McNulty - sly, confused, defiant, passionate - Sebastian Barry has created one of the most memorable narrators in recent fiction.' -- Sunday Telegraph
'It's a story to treasure, and Roseanne is a teller to remember.'
-- The Times
'Magnificent and heart-rending.'
-- Joseph O'Connor, Guardian
'One of the first great novels of this century.' -- Evening Herald
'The Secret Scripture is not at all like its illustrious predecessor but is equally powerful and memorable. It confirms that Sebastian Barry is at the forefront of contemporary Irish fiction.' -- Matthew Sweeney, Financial Times
'This is a superb book about memory and conflicting versions of the past.' -- Dermot Bolger, Mail on Sunday (Ireland)
'[A] magnificent and heart-rending novel ... Roseanne and Dr Grene, though hardly ever described, are incarnated with such commitment and narrative astuteness that you feel you are standing in the rain of their lives.' -- Joseph O'Connor, Guardian