The Secret Scripture

March 10, 2009 | No Comments

The twin narratives of Roseanne Clear and Dr. Grene two-step through The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry toward a revelation that is moving, if not entirely believable or fully earned. One hundred-year-old Roseanne, once the most beautiful girl in County Sligo, recalls the tragic path that led to her incarceration in Roscommon mental hospital while Dr. Grene seeks solace in her quiet company, escaping from the irreparable disintegration of his family life. Barry’s novel is blessed with the usual Irish literary virtues – exquisite language, gentle humor, a light touch while plumbing the heights and depths of this mortal coil; and burdened by the usual millstones of Ireland’s history  – poverty and ignorance, cruel happenstance, brutal sectarianism, and the narrow-minded hypocrisy of communities in thrall to demented priests. Roseanne’s story is almost too much too bear, so much misery, misery (Sweet Jesus, the misery), that you are almost thankful that she seems a few shillings short of a pound or she would never have survived it. Wonderful book, Mr Barry (with the exception of the plot twist – why this need to tie the two stories together? They worked just as nicely, as miserably, in tandem), but could we be done now, d’you think, Father, with this constant literary picking at Ireland’s scabbish past? I’m not sure I can take any more…

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