The Secret Scripture
Irish novels probably rank among my favourite and that must have something to do with the bleak side of me. I mean they are almost exquisitely hard and pessimistic whose characters have such an enormous Atlas-like burden on their shoulders. Then there is a rain (which I love), hunger, poverty and of course omnipresent utterly rigid Catholicism (which I absolutely dislike). So I guess this must be such a fertile ground for producing marvelous books which are staying with you long after you passed them further.
“The Secret Scripture” by Sebastian Barry (Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008) is no exception. It’s beautiful almost poetic novel about personal history but also history of Ireland. And of course such a painful histories they are. Past and present are interweaving through the “Rosanne’s Testimony of Herself” and “Dr Greene’s Commonplace Book”. Rosanne McNulty is a hundred years old patient incarcerated in an asylum (“madhouse”) where she spent a lifetime of many and where she’s writing her story. Dr Greene of course is employee in the asylum and is coordinating process of moving patients into another institution since the current one is about to be demolished. And he’s not quite sure about what to do with Rosanne, whether she should be free woman or kept in the institution. And he starts to write his diary about Rosanne as well but mostly about his life, his marriage, wife, getting older… But Rosanne is more and more becoming his main interest. It’s very interesting to see two parallel stories (Namely Dr Green is not aware of Rosanne’s writing) when he investigates Rosanne’s story from other sources.
“In Rosanne McNulty” (as it said on the books’ blurb) “sly, confused, defiant, passionate – Sebastian Barry has created one of the most memorable narrators in recent fiction” and I can’t agree more. This is surely one of the best books I’ve read this year.
It is so hard to even imagine such a horror people were facing in the early 19th century, especially if you live in Ireland and you are Presbyterian (not Catholic) woman. Powers priests have had in those times is unbelievable and the things they were doing I guess in the name of religion, lives they ruined is so hard to digest. However both Rosanne and Dr Green aren’t accusing, moreover they are explaining things from more compassionate and forgiving point of view (I wouldn’t) which is giving fantastic balance between the novel and the emotion the story is producing in reader.
There are no many characters in it which is giving great opportunity to entirely build those few. Portraits are fantastic, no one is without skeleton in the closet (I forgot the expression Barry used) but in spite the sinful past they don’t have compassion toward the ones who are passing through the same misfortune they passed years before. Gosh, such a hypocritical, self-convinced-good Christian society.
This novel grabbed me strongly and I was so greedy so that last 100 pages (which almost half a novel) I eaten in one swallow. And in one moment I shouted … something [I’m not going to tell you what cause it would be such a spoiler] and then I started sprint toward the last page. When I reached it and close the final page I had literally need to stand and applause!
Beautiful, beautiful, novel! Highly recommending!