The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
This was a suggestion made by one of our regular book club members and I was pleased as it’s not the sort of book my eye would naturally be drawn to.
The Secret Scripture: Set in the 1950’s we meet Dr Grene, a psychiatrist working at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. The Hospital is to be shut down and Dr Grene has to reassess all the current patients to find out whether they are suitable to be ‘released’ back into the local community. One particular patient, Roseanne, is nearing her 100th birthday and has been at the Hospital since she was a young woman. Dr Grene is faced with the task of delving into her history to try and reveal the secrets of why she was first committed.
At the same time, Roseanne is writing a secret history of her life, living in rural 1930’s Ireland and the series of tragedies that led to her incarceration. It is a beautifully written story exploring how we can all fall victim to the circumstances around us. Roseanne is almost earmarked for disaster as soon as she is born; the daughter of a protestant Father in a warring country and a mentally unstable mother. At some points in the story I was literally simmering with anger at how unfair her situation was, how powerless Roseanne was to change the way she was treated by people in authority around her. I honestly cannot imagine living in such a way and I had to repeatedly remind myself that it was a work of fiction and not a real story! Although I imagine, it isn't so far from some of the things that took place in that time.
We also follow a little bit of Dr Grene’s story, and how he faces his own tragic situations and seeks solace in Roseanne’s company, even though for a great many years she has been shunned and ignored by those working in the asylum around her.
This was my first Sebastian Barry novel but I enjoyed his flow of writing and his poetic descriptions of the setting. I have always thought Ireland to be a beautiful country and through Barry’s words, he really takes the reader on the journey with Roseanne and Dr Grene.
The only thing that lets this story down is the denouement. I won’t reveal the hidden twist here as that would spoil it for anyone who wishes to try it for themselves but it was just so sudden. We follow the entire story at an enjoyable pace and then the ending just seems to arrive as though Barry ran out of steam and wanted to tie the loose ends up. I found it difficult to correlate the way the story ended with the rest of what I had read, it was all very convenient! That said, it was still well written and I finished the book with a lump in my throat, disappointed that it had ended at all.
Another book I am really pleased to have read, and one I would recommend.
Review by the wonderful Duck Egg Book Club Editor, Jessica McGlynn.
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