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The Secret Scripture

A book by Sebastian Barry

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"Morality has its own civil wars."

  • Nov 24, 2008
  • by
Rating:
+4

In his distinctly Irish novel, set in County Sligo and Roscommon, a mental institution, a perhaps century old woman, Roseanne Cleary McNulty, pens a diary of her long life, which she hides in her room under the floorboards. Retrieving the notebook only when it's safe, Roseanne reveals a deeply loving relationship with a father who dies far too young and a mother who withdraws over time into the solitude of a troubled mind. Presbyterians, the Cleary's are an anomaly in Catholic Sligo, Joe Cleary dominating the landscape of his daughter's formative years. Reeling from his death and her mother's complete disinterest in the world around her, Roseanne is a naïve young woman, unprepared for what awaits, falling quickly in love with Tom McNulty. Tom and his brothers, and their domineering mother are the faces of the stubborn, loyal Irish rebels who spend their years fighting for independence, closing ranks against outsiders.

 

Much at work in Roseanne's life is a priest, Father Gaunt, a man invested in his own arrogance and misogyny, who visits his hatred and mistrust of women on the innocent Roseanne. It is through Gaunt's efforts that Roseanne's marriage to Tom is ruined, no one of consequence to protect the girl, left staggering at the blows fate has dealt.  Having been institutionalized for over half her life at the time she writes her memoirs, the remarkable thing about this character, as so beautifully rendered by Barry, is her inherent generosity of spirit and disinclination to harsh judgment of those who have wronged her. And while Roseanne is writing of her father and her marriage, Dr. Grene is charged with determining the future placement of his patient, Roscommon soon to be vacated and completely demolished. Unwilling to interrogate a woman whose face still carries the remnants of her exceptional beauty, Grene becomes fascinated by the small details he uncovers, hints that the truth may differ from Roseanne's recollection of her past.

 

Alternating these two stories (Dr. Grene beset by a terrible personal loss while investigating Roseanne's life), the author reveals an Ireland in turmoil, a beautiful woman caught up in a family enacting their part of that troubled history, cast out by the venality of a priest. It is Roseanne's great tragedy that her striking beauty is wielded as a sword to annihilate her world, her fond recollections of father and husband- at least for a time- the only buffer against the cruelty of the world. Roseanne's story is important because it is her voice, among many, that speaks to the plight of women ill-used by a hypocritically moral society and a Catholic church that has the power to ruin a life with one harsh judgment. Barry delivers an extraordinarily dear character in Roseanne and an empathetic doctor in Grene, setting the stage for a denouement that weaves these two lives intimately together, each in need of solace: "There is something greater than judgment. I think it is called mercy." Luan Gaines/ 2008.

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More The Secret Scripture reviews
review by . July 07, 2011
A novel set in Ireland - Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture
Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture is the story of Roseanne McNulty, who at around 100 years old has been living in a psychiatric hospital for most of her life. It may not sound like the promising start to a novel, but as Roseanne begins to write down the story of her life, we are soon drawn into the fascinating world of 20's and 30's rural Ireland, a time of civil war and the Irish Free State.   Roseanne's upbringing in the Coastal town of Sligo in Ireland's west …
review by . December 09, 2009
Continuing the fictional elaborations of his own family's facts, Barry tells of Irish repression movingly in this densely written but often poetic novel. Following "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty," Roseanne Clear McNulty enters the saga around the same time, the Irish Civil War following partial independence in the early 1920s. After a tragic event in Sligo town during the internecine war brings unwarranted scorn upon her Presbyterian father, Roseanne must grow up isolated from defenders, increasingly …
review by . July 04, 2008
In his distinctly Irish novel, set in County Sligo and Roscommon, a mental institution, a perhaps century old woman, Roseanne Cleary McNulty, pens a diary of her long life, which she hides in her room under the floorboards. Retrieving the notebook only when it's safe, Roseanne reveals a deeply loving relationship with a father who dies far too young and a mother who withdraws over time into the solitude of a troubled mind. Presbyterians, the Cleary's are an anomaly in Catholic Sligo, Joe Cleary …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #109
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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The latest from Barry (whoseA Long Waywas shortlisted for the 2005 Booker) pits two contradictory narratives against each other in an attempt to solve the mystery of a 100-year-old mental patient. That patient, Roseanne McNulty, decides to undertake an autobiography and writes of an ill-fated childhood spent with her father, Joe Clear. A cemetery superintendent, Joe is drawn into Ireland's 1922 civil war when a group of irregulars brings a slain comrade to the cemetery and are discovered by a division of Free-Staters. Meanwhile, Roseanne's psychiatrist, Dr. Grene, investigating Roseanne's original commitment in preparation for her transfer to a new hospital, discovers through the papers of the local parish priest, Fr. Gaunt, that Roseanne's father was actually a police sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. The mysteries multiply when Roseanne reveals that Fr. Gaunt annulled her marriage after glimpsing her in the company of another man; Gaunt's official charge was nymphomania, and the cumulative fallout led to a string of tragedies. Written in captivating, lyrical prose, Barry's novel is both a sparkling literary puzzle and a stark cautionary tale of corrupted power.(June)
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Details

ISBN-10: 0670019402
ISBN-13: 978-0670019403
Author: Sebastian Barry
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Viking Adult
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