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The Secret Scripture: A Novel

(Part of the McNulty Family Series)

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. An epic story of family, love, and unavoidable tragedy from the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist. Now a major motion picture starring Rooney Mara. Sebastian Barry's latest novel, Days Without End ,...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

How History is Made

This is a wonderful book, full of fine writing and surprises. The story is touching and uplifting--other reviewers have done an admirable job of summarizing it, so I won't go there. For me, the most significant thing about the book is the profound reflection on the nature of the information we call history, how it is made, the need to look behind its veil for true understanding. What a fine writer!

A Clear View

Roseanne Clear is an ancient woman living in an Irish asylum to which she was committed "for social reasons" after she bore an out-of-wedlock child. She has been a resident for so long that no one knows how old she really is or exactly what the circumstances of her commitment were. The "secret scripture" of the title is Roseanne's narrative of her life, written on scraps with a pilfered pen and hidden under a loose floorboard. At the same time her story is unfolding, the psychiaitrist who heads the institution is slowly putting together a competing narrative of Roseanne's life. The asylum is closing -- Ireland's version of de-institutionalization -- and the terms of Roseanne's commitment must legally determine where she'll be placed next. In the end, the two narratives come together in a wholly surprising way, but not before surveying Ireland's brutal and complicated history of political and sectarian violence from the establishment of the Free State up to the present. The author turns a particularly cold eye on the devastating grip that the Roman Catholic Church held on Irish society and politics for the better part of the 20th century. Although I've cited its political and historical scope, the novel tells its story in wholly personal terms. At various points the novel is funny, magically poetic, tragic -- and often all three: a great read. Once you've read "The Secret Scripture," go on to read "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty" -- a prequel, sort of, of this novel.

Don't miss this fine novel from the Booker short list

The interesting thing about "The Secret Scripture" isn't its subject matter. That will seem familiar: Ireland in (primarily) the 20's and 30's: poverty; civil war; small town secrets and cruelties; a cold and manipulative priest. Barry's technique of using alternating voices (the mental hospital patient, Roseanne Clear, and the staff psychiatrist, Dr. Grene) is not an unusual one either; it is the same device that Pat Barker uses in her "Regeneration" trilogy. Barry's great achievement in "The Secret Scripture" is to make the familiar seem utterly new. In part he does this through the use of conflicting narratives, the cold "official" record written by Father Gaunt and the memories secretly written down by Roseanne. In part, he does it through the way he draws lesser characters, like the McNulty mother and brothers. And he does it by the lyrical way in which he recreates the Irish landscape, as if no one had ever written about it before. The image of the Metal Man, pointing forever out to sea, is an indelible metaphor for the story of Roseanne Clear. I disagree with many of the assessments of this novel in other reviews. For some the ending is too melodramatic, the narrator too unreliable, the plot too unconvincing. The memories of Roseanne Clear are reliable, convincing and compelling precisely because of her situtation. She's been locked away from the rest of the world for decades, with nothing to contemplate except the things that have happened to her. Her memory is undimmed because the events of ordinary life have not gotten in the way. It is as if she were gazing down through a clear pool at the same patch of sea floor; so well does she know it that she can see it in the most minute detail. You will not be disappointed by this novel. Adiga's "The White Tiger" won the Booker prize, but this novel is equally good.


So many novels these days begin well, and then give the impression that the author is thoughtlessly coasting. This book is pure poetry, superbly written, and gripping throughout. An excellent read. A pity that there are no other works by this author on Kindle!

I second the motion: Masterpiece!

I've been a fan of Sebastian Barry since reading "Annie Dunne." His insight into the Irish people and Ireland the place is magnificent, from both a historical and poetic perspective. Some writers are story tellers and some are word masters, few are both, Barry is both. This is literary fiction but it is accessible (as I believe all great literature should be).
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