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A reader's guide to The Secret Scripture

Updated Friday, 1st May 2009

Can Roseanne McNulty be allowed to rejoin the community - and if not, what will happen to her when the hospital she calls home closes?

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Roseanne McNulty has been a patient in mental hospitals for most of her adult life. The Roscommon institution is facing closure, and a Senior Psychiatrist, Dr William Grene, has to assess whether Roseanne can be sent back into the community.

Modern Sligo Creative commons image Icon Corrado Fizban Ignoti under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license
Modern Sligo [Image: Corrado Fizban Ignoti under CC-BY-NC-ND licence]

Their lives are revealed to us through journal entries. Roseanne describes her childhood and marriage (‘Sligo made me and Sligo undid me’), sharing precious memories of her beloved father and the husband she adored.

However, her account does not tally with the damning official record unearthed by Dr Grene.

Should we believe Father Gaunt’s document, ‘mostly eaten away by mice and crawling with silverfish, like some ancient scroll of the desert’?

Or should we trust Roseanne’s harrowing private testimony, which she keeps hidden under a loose floorboard? To complicate matters, she asks herself whether she is mixing up her memories with her imaginings; and Dr Grene has traumas of his own to contend with following the death of his wife.

Barry’s novel spans significant years in Ireland’s troubled history. The reader becomes immersed in the country’s past, over and beyond the compelling personal stories of the two protagonists.

Although The Secret Scripture did not scoop the Man Booker Prize, it was voted the Costa Book of the Year. Matthew Parris, the Costa panel’s chairman, revealed that the decision took the judges quite some time:

‘They agreed that it was flawed, and almost no one liked the ending, which was almost fatal to its success.’

Do read the novel, then let us know what YOU think! Join the discussion by commenting below.





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