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Haunting picture of Ireland with great characters

  • Jul 9, 2013
The walls of an asylum might hide many secrets, but Dr. Grene’s interests are fixed on elderly Roseanne McNulty as the ancient asylum’s threatened with closure. Why was she left here? What was her crime or her insanity? And how will she cope in the outside world?

Roseanne hides her secrets in a diary in Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Keeper. Meanwhile her doctor keeps secrets of his own, and both tell their lives from their own point of view, adding their own interpretations to events. When the stories start to collide and combine, their mysteries slip through the cracks and hints of deeper truths appear.

Father Gaunt has written the truth he claims, but he might be as unreliable in his records as poor old Roseanne is in her written recollections. Feathers and cannon balls fall from a tower, symbols of the different paths of different points of view. And the fog of Sligo finally clears to reveal a tortured truth.

The characters’ voices are beautifully and consistently portrayed in this novel. The points of view are vividly real. And the promise of hope stays alight throughout the tale. My only complaint would be that I guessed the conclusion too soon, but it couldn’t stop me reading—couldn’t tear me away from the characters.

An enjoyable novel, evocative, haunting, and hopeful in spite of its dark themes, this one is highly recommended.

Disclosure: My sister-in-law loaned me this book.

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About the reviewer
Sheila Deeth ()
Ranked #41
Sheila Deeth's first novel, Divide by Zero, has just been released in print and ebook formats. Find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, etc. Her spiritual speculative novellas can be found at … more
About this product


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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