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The Secret Scripture [Paperback]

Sebastian Barry
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

29 Jan 2009
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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Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Reprint edition (29 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571215297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571215294
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His plays include Boss Grady's Boys (1988), The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998) and The Pride of Parnell Street (2007). His novels include The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), Annie Dunne (2002), A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008). He has won, among other awards, the Irish-America Fund Literary Award, the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Prize, the London Critics Circle Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize. A Long Long Way, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dublin International Impac Prize, was the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2007. The Secret Scripture won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the Irish Book Awards for Best Novel and the Independent Booksellers Prize. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, Christopher Ewart-Biggs award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

Product Description

Amazon Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


'A great book by, arguably, our greatest living novelist.' Irish Times -- Irish Times

'A must ... it's exquisitely written and full of love and hope.' Irish Independent
-- Irish Independent

'A tremendous entertainment ... a gorgeous patchwork of luminous anecdotes, hidden truths and necessary fictions.' Observer -- Observer

'An astonishing story, told with sadness and grace, full of gleaming images.' The Times -- The Times

'Apowerfully poetic individual epic that illuminates the history of a `country of cupboards, every one with a skeleton in it'.' Sunday Telegraph -- Sunday Telegraph

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful prose...cliched ending. 3 Mar 2009
Barry's prose is simply gorgeous, his manner of expression is poetic and tactile and I finished the book because I got caught up in his words as much as his tale. That said, the plot is also superb until the denouement, which is so trite I almost felt cheated by its convenience...but that prose drew me back in. For a painful and difficult book with such strong and well-defined characters I think the reader could have coped with an incomplete, or even broken and unsettling ending. You could argue that this is indeed the case depending on how you see things, but I felt I'd gone from reading a truly credible and important novel to reading the plot of a television movie. Definitely worth reading though. With a box of tissues.
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200 of 210 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Victim or Survivor? 28 Jan 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Roseanne McNulty is an old, old lady. Most of her life has been spent in mental institutions. As the book opens, no-one is really sure how old she is, why she was committed to an institution in the first place and whether she still needs to be in one (if she ever did).

The hospital where she now lives is due to close and psychiatrist William Grene has to decide what should happen to her. Official records are either missing or so scant as to make the old lady seem little more than a ghost.

But Roseanne has not always been a ghost: she was once a little girl; a young woman; a wife; a mother. This flesh and blood Roseanne is preserved in the "secret scripture", a hand written account of her early life kept hidden beneath a loose floorboard in her room. So whilst Dr Grene follows the sparse clues left by what remains of her in the outside world, the reader gets to hear Roseanne's story in her own words.

This is a masterful exploration of the way in which place, time and circumstance can impact on the lives of ordinary people. In this case the place is the West of Ireland and the time is the Irish Civil War and its aftermath. Roseanne's circumstances are that she is female and the daughter of a Protestant father and a mentally unstable mother.

Despite its background, this book is not about the use of institutions as a means of social control in Ireland (or anywhere else) and readers who are expecting something along those lines may be disappointed.

The writing and characterisation are firmly in the 5 star bracket, but the denouement will have you tearing your hair out, so 4 stars overall.

Nevertheless, a good read. This was my first Sebastian Barry and it inspired me to read more.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book 14 April 2009
I have just finished this book and found it a brilliant read. As an ordinary reader, I sometimes find Booker prize winners heavy going but this one gripped me from the start. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a work of fiction and not a true story. However, it is true in the sense that this kind of thing used to happen in Ireland and not that long ago. Roseanne's story would break your heart for all those poor people who ended up in asylums because nobody wanted them or they were an embarassment to their family. Would recommend this excellent book to anyone.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Irish Hardy 5 Nov 2008
By Gareth Smyth VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read this more as book about the power of fate than a reworking of a theme of anti-Catholicism. In fact, it put me more in mind of Thomas Hardy than anything else. We maybe know where it's all heading but we follow the journey.

It's possible to characterise `The Secret Scripture' - like `The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty' or `A Long Long Way' - as "revisionist", and the book may please or displease some readers according to their political proclivities.

But for me this misses the value of Barry's work. As well as an ear for the beauty of language, he has an outstanding gift for characterisation and a deep if understated compassion. While well-rooted in an Ireland of a certain period, his novels touch far deeper, universal matters.

Since I read the novel (twice), I drove out from Glenfarne in north Leitrim to Rosses point and looked across to the tin man and Coney island. It was a windy, slightly wet day and you could somehow imagine Roseanne McNulty struggling along. When I got back in the car it wouldn't start and I had to call the breakdown.
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Scripture 29 Oct 2008
Sebastian Barry's Booker 2008 shortlisted The Secret Scripture is the first novel of his I've read. It is written in the form of logs kept by its two main protagonists, Roseanne McNulty, a frail old lady of around 100 years who has been in mental asylums for most of her adult life, and William Grene, Roseanne's psychiatrist, who is approaching retirement. The setting is a small town called Roscommon near Sligo in Ireland.

Roseanne is writing her history - as she remembers it - because she knows her life is nearing an end. William Grene is keeping a diary because his private life has imploded with the disintegration of his relationship with his wife Bet. He also has the task of assessing the patients of Roscommon mental hospital to see which can be released into the community when the hospital is pulled down and rebuilt at another site with far fewer beds. Because of this, he needs to ascertain the reasons for each patient's admission - whether they are truly 'insane' and in need of continual care in an institution, or whether they are potentially able to be re-integrated back into the community.

Thus starts a curious friendship between the two, based more on empathy than on communication. Roseanne keeps her written account of her life secret by hiding it under the floorboards and only allows Dr Grene to coax tiny fragments of her past from her. For his part, William Grene is content to not traumatise Roseanne with intrusive questioning, but the mystery of her past starts to haunt him.

The interspersing of Roseanne's and William Grene's written accounts draws the reader slowly into both their lives. Roseanne's sections are written in a more archaic tone than Dr Grene's because of her age, and the prose in her testimony is almost poetic at times, dreamy and nostalgic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong woman
Wonderful, moving story, written in diary form, of a aged woman who has been in an asylum for most of her life and the psychiatrist who has to determine whether she is fit to enter... Read more
Published 1 day ago by Waasley
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written myth
In an asylum that just about to close, a psychiatrist tries to assess Roseanne Clear to see where she can cared for next. Read more
Published 14 days ago by GeordieReader
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully, sadly, deceptive.
Read this in Sligo, which added to an already well-told and gripping tale both thought-provoking and sad in a yearning kind of way, with many nuggets of truth scattered throughout
Published 17 days ago by Sandra Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic read
I briefly joined a book group and was very reluctant to read this at first as i didn't think it would be my type of read.
Once i started reading it i couldn't stop. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sha
4.0 out of 5 stars bookclub
I quite liked this book, which ambled along at a gentle pace. The ending came as a complete surprise to me. Read more
Published 1 month ago by nelhelen
5.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Scripture By Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry’s moving novel, The Secret Scripture causes many waves of emotions. Read more
Published 1 month ago by The Mother Booker
1.0 out of 5 stars Slow and dull
This is a story about an elderly lady in a mental institution who reminisces about the past to her fairly elderly doctor. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Pauline, Bristol
5.0 out of 5 stars novel on Ireland
This was a very interesting book. It was extremely well written and made you feel drawn into the places and people. Read more
Published 2 months ago by F. Brown
4.0 out of 5 stars an absorbing read
The author kept my interest through to the end. The amazing revelations revealed much mystery and imagination.
It was slow to start but kept me enthralled as I read further.
Published 2 months ago by eae age 68
4.0 out of 5 stars lovely
A moving story of 2 people. The book runs along too separate narritives very well> It is a lovely story , I got this for my mums birthday
Published 2 months ago by Ms. Paula Macgregor
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