The Secret Scripture  Episode #1955

Synopsis: With the recent death of Seamus Heaney, Irish poet, Sebastian Barry has forged ahead to the forefront as Ireland's best and finest living writer. He is an Irish playwright, novelist and poet, who began by writing poetry, then switched to writing plays, and now is writing novels. He is best known for his award winning novel, The Secret Scripture, which is the crowning achievement of his writing success. This novel, as well as his others, illuminates the strong relationship between the individual and the historical, specifically the history of Ireland, during "the troubles" of the 1920's and 30's. He is known for his intense and dense literary writing style.
Genre: Drama
Year:
2008
43 Views


First of all, I loved reading this novel and it is an excellent example of his writing of the relationship of his characters to the historical time period 1920's-30's. The reader sees first hand the affects the political, religious and social upheavals had on the characters in his novel.

This novel was inspired by a story told to Barry by his mother about an old relative. He has said, "I felt almost duty-bound as a novelist to reclaim her and indeed remake her."

It is the sad, poignant and tragic story of Roseanne McNulty, the main character, who resides in the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. Tragically, she has been a patient there for some sixty plus years. She is celebrating her one hundredth birthday and has decided to write her autobiography.

She has entitled it "Roseanne's testimony of herself" and keeps the previous pages she has written hidden under a loose foot board in the floor or her room. The autobiography charts her life and that of her parents living in Ireland in the town of Sligo at the turn of the 20th century.

The second narrative we read is by the sympathetic chief psychiatrist Dr. Grene who writes in his "Commonplace Book."

The mental hospital is to be demolished and Dr. Grene must decide which patients will be moved to the new psychiatric hospital and who will be released into the community. He must decided who suffers from psychoses and who does not.

Dr. Grene is particularly drawn to and concerned about Roseanne McNulty as he observes no psychosis in her and is puzzled as to why she has been ensconced in a mental institution for more than sixty years.

He views Roseanne as, "just a bit of paper blowing on the edge of the wasteland." She has no living relatives anyone knows of and she has no visitors. She has been alone and forgotten, a nobody, for more than sixty years.

When he talks with her about her past and why she was incarcerated in a mental institution for more than half her life, he notices she is forgetful and a bit confused about past events, common for someone of one hundred years of age, but certainly not anywhere near suffereing from dementia or alzheimer's disease. She shows no evidence of psychosis.

So, why has she been here for more than sixty years? Both Roseanne and Dr. Grene have conflicting stories as to her incarceration and her early life, so Dr. Grene sets out to find the truth - the facts of her time in the mental institution.

What is consistent about both their versions of her life story is that Roseanne fell victim to the religious, political and social upheavals of her generation in Ireland in the 1920's and 30'.

Dr. Grene comes to discover that Roseanne's unique beauty is what has done her in. She was too beautiful a woman if something like that can be.

Through the entries in "Roseanne's testimony of herself," and Dr. Grene's "Commonplace Book," Barry weaves a beautiful yet tragic story of Roseanne's life and how others judged her by 1920's and 30's standards of acceptable behavior and the cruelty of their actions against her.

There is a surprise ending and a twist that I will not reveal, and it is this ending that has confounded the critics. Many critics found the book ruined by the ending, may be thinking it was too cliche, but I did not. I thought the ending brilliant. It was totally believable to me and fitting and in keeping with the psychiatrist being drawn to Roseanne and his obsession with finding out her true story.

I highly recommend reading this novel and any others by Sebastian Barry. Through reading his novels, we learn of another important historical time in Ireland's history. And, what better way to write it than through the wonderful characters he creates in his novels?

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Sebastian Barry

Barry is thoroughly Irish, born in Dublin and whose mother was the late Irish actress, Joan O'Hara. He attended Catholic University School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he read English and Latin. Barry's literary career began in poetry before he began writing papers, plays and novels. He was also editor of Icarus, the Trinity College student magazine. more…

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Submitted by DaisyRowley on March 26, 2019

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