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The Secret Scripture Paperback – 29 Jan 2009

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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: 12.6 x 2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (257 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,323 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

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Taiga Bright on 3 Mar. 2009
Format: Paperback
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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201 of 211 people found the following review helpful By hbw VINE VOICE on 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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gareth Smyth VINE VOICE on 5 Nov. 2008
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By What Cathy Read on 25 July 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
`I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves.'

So writes Roseanne McNulty, a centenarian patient in Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, as she secretly puts pen to paper and sets down her life story.

The Secret Scripture was Costa Book of the Year in 2008. The old-lady-in-an-asylum subject didn't much grab me, I'll admit (to be honest, it struck me as worthy but dull) but thank goodness I read it all the same because I was hooked from the first page. In fact chapter one is so good it could serve as a model for would-be writers. Find a distinctive voice - tick; establish a sense of place - tick; build suspense - tick; locate the character - tick; and set up the theme - tick. Barry manages to do it all, and more, within the first couple of pages.

Rosanne's life is shaped by political and religious forces she barely registers, much less understands. She is the only child of a Presbyterian father and a Plymouth Brethren mother, growing up in predominantly Catholic Sligo in the early twentieth century, and the violence of the period breaks into her account like the tips of so many icebergs - the Easter Rising, the First World War, the Irish War of Independence, the special position of the Catholic Church in the Free State's Constitution, the rise of Fascism in Europe, the Second World War. It is against this backdrop that Rosanne's own turbulent history unfolds.

The counterpoise to Rosanne's `brittle and honest-minded' account is the narrative of Dr Grene, the hospital's senior psychiatrist.
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