The Secret Scripture divided opinion – some of us loved it, and others were less impressed not finding themselves gripped by Sebastian Barry’s story (and maybe too much doom and gloom). There is certainly a lot that goes wrong in Roseanne’s life, and as it is told through various first hand accounts which are for various reasons not always reliable it takes a while to piece together the tale.
Roseanne is a patient in a mental hospital. Committed there as a young woman she is nearing 100, and the psychiatrist Dr Grene caring for her is trying to find out her history. The narrative switches between Roseanne’s secret account of her life, her memories and thoughts and Dr Grene’s diaries. The backdrop is Ireland in the early 20th century, but that turbulent period is touched on lightly only as it impacts Roseanne’s life. She is the only child of Presbyterian parents living in a catholic community and much of what befalls her can be laid at the door of a stern and humourless catholic priest Father Gaunt, whom Roseanne refers to as a good man, but who manipulates events to bring down both her parents and ultimately Roseanne herself. Elements of the story and characters are based on people and events from Barry’s own family.
The story has many turns, but the last twist comes as a complete surprise – and for me it was a coincidence too far, although others in the group disagreed.
Sebastian Barry’s writing in lovely – very poetic, full of imagery. Again some of us really enjoyed just tasting the sentences whilst for others it got in the way of the flow of the story.