The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry

I think I must be one of the last people in the book blogging world to have read this book. Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture is a book that seems to come highly commended by almost every review and every blogger that’s read it so far. It has also won the Costa Book of the Year and was Shortlisted for the Man Booker. I always worry when a book has such glowing recommendations that it might fall completely flat with me and not only will I be the last person at the party, I will be the one that turns up in fancy dress whilst everyone else hasn’t. With this book I have to agree with the consensus that it is indeed an amazing novel.

The Secret Scripture is told in two narratives. The first is of Roseanne McNulty a woman nearing her 100th birthday in Roscommon Mental Hospital where she has been since she was a young woman. The hospital itself is being closed and her doctor, the second narrator of the tale, Dr Grene is looking at everyone’s case notes before he can recommend who should be moved to Roscommon Mental Hospitals replacement. In doing so he finds that in the crumbling institute her records have been destroyed and used by mice to make nests and so he has no idea why she was committed. Meanwhile Roseanne herself is looking back at her past and as the two both make their separate journals Roseanne’s story is revealed by both parties and uncovers deeply buried secrets.

These two characters make wonderful narrators as they are so different. Roseanne writes from her memory which might not be as reliable as it could be as she is writing over sixty years after the events and some of it is seen through her eyes as a child. Dr Grene is writing his account as his marriage is under terrible strain very much in the now and he seems to be close to some kind of breakdown often questioning if he should be a doctor at all. They are incredibly different characters and yet a bond is drawn between them even though they are wary of each other. They are wonderful flawed characters and in summing them up the best way possible I will use the thoughts they have of each other. Dr Grene see’s Roseanne as “a formidable person and though long periods have gone by when I have not seen her, or only tangentially, I am always aware of her”, Roseanne sees him as “a brilliant man. He looks like a ferret, but no matter. Any man that can talk about old Greeks and Romans is a man after my father’s heart.”

Through Roseanne’s story Sebastian Barry tells us of Ireland’s history. He also looks at the way that religion divided the country and people and how awful things came from peoples differing beliefs. He also looks at the history of asylums and how people could be committed, I shall not say more than that as I don’t want to give anything away about this book as if you haven’t read it what are you waiting for? If you needed anymore reasons as to why you should read this book, apart from a wonderful story, intelligent plotting, intrigue and great characters, there is also the prose which is absolutely beautiful. It seems like every single sentence as been thought through and every word made to count. I don’t think I can sell this book anymore than that really.

Now this book has made me realise that I might need to sort out my ‘Best Books of 2009’ tags as I though I have read some truly cracking reads I might be being a bit to tag happy. It takes certain books to blow you away somewhat and though these moments happen to us with different reads it seems that with The Secret Scripture it seems to have happened an awful lot with a lot of people. Sometimes with works like this turning the final page is something you feel sad about as you wanted to keep reading it endlessly.


Filed under Books of 2009, Faber & Faber, Man Booker, Review, Sebastian Barry

11 responses to “The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry

  1. farmlanebooks

    I haven’t read this yet, although it is on the list!

    I’m pleased it was really good, and look forward to comparing your ‘best reads of 2009’ list with mine.

  2. candyschultz

    This is the one I thought should have won the Booker. I haven’t read The White Tiger – I am starting that today – but I thought The Secret Scripture was incredibly wonderful in every way.

  3. Frances

    I loved this book. Poetry disguised as prose. Supposedly flawed ending and all. It led me to Barry’s poetry, and that is also a trip well-worth taking.

  4. Sandy Nawrot

    Hey, you’re not the last! I’ve not read it, although I’d like to!

  5. Lizzy Siddal

    It was a top ten for me in 2008. and one I look forward to rereading with my book group.

  6. Savidge Reads

    Farmlane – I will look forward to your thoughts on this when you do read it as ever!

    Candy – I am going to start The White Tiger next week so will let you know how I get on with it and what should have won… mind you I havent read that many from last years longlist!!

    Frances – you are spot on it with the Poetry prose comment!

    Sandy – I honestly recommend that you read it I really really do!

    Lizzie – I would imagine this for a book group book is a really good one for discussion, we have book group this sunday and ours is Cold Comfort Farm!

  7. Savidge Reads

    Can I just add to one and all that if you have read this and loved it… I have just discovered (people probably know this already am very behind with the times) that Eneas who is in the book has his own tale and book by Sebatian Barry with The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty. I am going to have to read that aswell!

  8. uncertainprinciples

    Just finished reading this today, and I feel like I’m one of the last people to read this book! I really did enjoy it though, and thought the writing was beautiful.

    And yup, plan to read The Whereabouts of.. as well.

  9. Yes, this book is one that you don’t want to end because his writing is PLEASURE to read. So many wonderful amazing lines! He is a poet.

    I’m on my 3rd Barry novel and love them all.

  10. Pingback: Books of 2009 « Savidge Reads

  11. Pingback: On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry |

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