The Secret Scripture

by Sebastian Barry

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finishing this it’s difficult to see how I managed to leave it lying around the house for a year or so before picking it up to read. Though I did leave it lying around numerous times during the reading too - putting it down while other books took my fancy. And indeed I’ve set down far more books halfway through than I’ve finished in the last couple of years so maybe it’s not so odd.

It is a really good read, and one that I think I’d enjoy as much on a second reading - if I didn’t have far too many other demands on my reading time to even contemplate it.

The story is mostly narrated by Roseanne Clear, a hundred year old resident in an Irish mental hospital, as she writes down her history in secret. Retelling her childhood and young womanhood in the years between the first and second world wars. There are also passages from her doctor who is wondering how she will cope with the old hospital closing and moving to a new facility. Steadily you find out why Roseanne ended up in the mental hospital - it’s pretty clear from the outset that she’s not particularly mad but has been classified as such for convenience at some point.

To be honest I think the book was better for my reading it slowly, it feels right to have done so. To have zoomed through it quickly might have condensed the years of the story too far. It feels like there was much more story here than the number of pages would have you believe.