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on 12 May 2017
An excellent read. I was engrossed from the fist paragraph! All my emotions were involved in reading this wonderful yet sad story.... Sebastian Barry is an amazing writer. I also enjoyed it because I love Sligo - the setting for the story - it was lovely reading about places & scenery that I know. I highly recommend this book
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VINE VOICEon 25 November 2009
This is a wonderful book that in lyrical prose unfolds the story of Roseanne who has been incarcerated in a mental hospital for most of her life. When the book begins she is an old lady of nearly a hundred looking back on her past in a quizzical way as she secretly writes down her memories. At the same time her psychiatrist Dr Grene is making notes of his assessment of her as he tries to decide where she should go when the institution closes.

He is intrigued by her calm demeanour and by her apparent lack of interest in communicating with him. Many of her records have disappeared and he is increasingly drawn into trying to find out who she really is and how she came to be in the hospital.

Through Rose's testimony we learn how her own mother was insane, that she adored her father and was later rejected by the family she married into. Her family's Presbyterianism in a Catholic society is a constant source of trouble. But Rose is never strident outraged by what has happened to her - all her troubles are seen with a half sad, half amused view. (Her way of speaking reminded me very much of the unfortunate Grace in Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace) Rose is very much a commentator and spectator of the world around her. When Dr Grene confronts her with some recorded facts about her past she rejects them - Rose's writings have become her own truth.

Dr Grene is a kindly though far from being faultless. He is slow to respond to obvious abuses and problems within the hospital and is also infuriatingly slow in getting to grips with Rose's history. But he has no illusions about his own capabilities: "It would be a very good thing if occasionally I thought I knew what I was doing."

A lovely book, well deserving all the critical acclaim. Barry writes of bitterness, memory and loss in an Ireland of sectarianism, hatred and betrayal. But in spite of everything the spirit of Rose survives. My only real problem with The Secret Scripture was the rather clumsy and coincidental plot device at the end - this was a pity and spoiled the end for me.

The Secret Scripture is a book that draws you in and you want to race through it to find out what happens. But now I feel I need to go back and read it again in order to savour the wonderful language.

PS - I don't usually comment on book covers but the photograph on the front of my copy is just lovely and absolutely the right choice!
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on 17 March 2012
I hesitated about the star rating to give this (in many ways the idea of assigning such a blunt assessment tool to literature feels increasingly absurd each time I attempt it).

Is it a perfect novel? Not to me. Without wishing to engage in spoilers, I didn't quite buy the character who had so deftly been pulling the strings in the background for so many decades. It all seemed too pat, and not properly supported by anything we'd seen as the story progressed. So to have it pointed out in a few sentences in the rush through the denouement felt somewhat unsatisfactory. This, together with the fact you can see the ending coming about a third of the way through the novel might, in another novel, have tempted me more towards three stars.

Having said this, the thrill of seeing intricate prose deployed to such beautiful purpose simply cannot be conveyed with five paltry stars. Every sentence sings of the wonder of the English language rolling off an Irish tongue. That Barry manages to deploy this lightness, joy, beauty and humour to depict what is effectively an Irish horror story is staggering. One by one he introduces us to beloved characters before dragging them through versions of tailor-made hells. And yet the whole time we are cossetted in the Irish turn of phrase, and this is what allows us to confront the various darknesses at the heart of the Irish experience without shirking.

In the end, The Secret Scripture manages to be a profoundly uplifting book about an unspeakable event.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 13 March 2011
This book is written in an unusual style and because of this it is a book to savour.

Roseanne McNulty has been incarcerated in a mental institution for so many years no-one appears to know exactly how old she is or how long she has been removed from the community.

The story is layered with Roseanne writing her life story, the account that she has declined to discuss with the Senior Psychiatrist at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, Dr Grene, and Dr Grene's Commonplace Book.

Times are changing and Roscommon is being demolished and Dr Grene has to assess all patients prior to deciding where they should be housed in the future. His Commonplace Book details the "facts" that he discovers about Roseanne along with details about his own personal life with his wife.

The crux of the book is what is truth? If something is remembered and believed is that truth? Alongside this there is much about the history of Ireland, the power of the priest and what happened when someone fails to live up to the standards of the day.

There are great developments towards the end of the book but the seeds are sown for these earlier on, a huge coincidence maybe but not so much so that it ruined the story, for me it enhanced it.

At the end of the book, you still wonder what was the truth, I know what I wanted to believe...
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on 12 April 2017
Brilliant read, a good page turner. Couldn't put the book down
Really good read. Recommended to me, so passing on this
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on 3 January 2015
Most unusual book,very concentrated on two characters.Slow development of main theme set in the heart of Irish countryside.Rare glimpse on Irish life after the arrival of DeValera to power.Sad that so many people lost their lives in the violent disagreement between the two factions.Like a good mystery thriller the reader is lead gently along the old lady's long saga of ill treatment at the hands of her ''betters''..Worth perservering to the end to discover the real facts of what happened.Masterful writing by Barry and full of his craft.
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on 22 April 2012
The main character had achieved the age of 100. Her tale was sketchy at times - it would be, she had been incarcerated in
an asylum for about 50 years. A harsh tale of the Irish 'troubles' and beautifully written with a nice twist at the end.
I enjoyed it immensely. (I love to read first thing in the morning. On the morning of my purchase at 07.20 hrs I was without
a book , but the wonder of my wife's Kindle soon overcame the problem - it is the best gift she's ever had that I've been
able to commandeer).
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on 25 March 2013
The writing is lyrical - softly descriptive with a beautiful rhythm. The story unfurls like a rose bud slowly opening to full bloom. The first time I started reading, I was really stressed and couldn't allow the book to work its magic. The second time I picked it up I was instantly drawn in - it's weird how your state of mind totally alters your appreciation of books.

The story is told by 2 journals/memoirs....one by a very old lady incarcerated in what would once have been called a lunatic asylum. The other is written by the psychiatrist in charge of the home who needs to assess the inmates when the home is closed. The story of Roseannes life is shocking but not told shockingly.

Some have criticised the ending - see what you make of it. It is certainly neat, perhaps too neat? The writing itself is enough for me - that and the chance to learn a little more of the very complex period of Irish history between the first and second world wars.
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on 16 August 2013
I have always had a leaning towards Irish writers, they seem to me to have more than just 'a way with words'. I read The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty back in 2001 and simply couldn't believe the raw emotion that Barry put into every paragraph. For those who have also read The Whereabouts, and indeed for those who haven't, i urge you to buy a copy of this novel. I had the pleasure of reading The Secret Scripture during a 3 week trip recently, and to say i was more interested in the story than i was in Vietnam.....well maybe a small exaggeration. I was totally engrossed. The words flow in a unique style, you will be gripped and grabbed and pulled all over the place. The stunning descriptive flow will even have you in tears. The twist will leave you breathless. I congratulate Mr.Barry and if ever i meet him i will thank him for giving so much reaqding pleasure. Oh, and the first round will be on me.
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on 21 May 2018
A harrowing tale of a woman’s lifetime incarceration. Well written from woman’s point of view and the male’s point of view of the two subjects of the tale and written by a male writer so well. Maybe the ending is far fetched but in my experience these things do happen so I found it convincing.
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