Sebastian Barry’s novel The Secret Scripture takes us to the contemporary west of Ireland, to a decrepit, ancient asylum that is about to be torn down. This poses a dilemma for the director, Dr. Grene, who must unearth the history of his oldest patient, 99-year-old Roseanne McNulty. Was she committed against her will? Is she really delusional? His sleuthing and personal musings, alternating with her clandestine diary (the “secret scripture” of the title), tell sometimes starkly contrasting tales that lead the reader to alternately ascribe sanity or madness to nearly every character in the story.
The Secret Scripture begs to be savored, one short, dense, lovely chapter at a time. Written very consciously in the long poetical shadow of Yeats, it’s on my nightstand to re-read for the pure enjoyment of the language, as well as to to re-assess (and re-enjoy) the intricate plot and the interplay of personalities, politics, power and responsibility.
p.s. Why Sebastian Barry keeps missing the Man Booker Prize is beyond me… I am a big fan and loved his previous novel, A Long Long Way. Okay, he lost this one (2009) to Wolf Hall, which I raved about, but still!