The Secret Scripture
Sebastian Barry (Adult Fiction)
The Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital is scheduled for demolition. All current patients are to be evaluated in order to determine whether they are mentally suitable for integration into the community. This process goes fairly well until Dr. William Grene has to make a recommendation concerning Roseanne McNulty—a patient nearing her one hundredth year and who has spent over half of her life in hospitals. Her original paperwork has long since vanished and the only history he has to go on are a combination of Roseanne’s memory of her past, the notes from a Catholic priest in her hometown of County Sligo, Ireland, and diary entries that she personally has made throughout her hospital commitment. Can Dr. Grene put together enough of Roseanne’s past in order to safely and confidently determine her future?
The Secret Scripture was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, was the recipient of the Costa Book of the Year Award, and named a Best Book of the Year by Boston Globe and Economist. For such a heralded book, it makes me wonder why I am seemingly in the minority for disliking it so much. Firstly, this is one of those rare books that I was tempted—more than once—to discard and just move on to something else. Although the writing was beautiful and the descriptions and details were vivid and elaborate, the stories of both Roseanne and Dr. Grene were boring and failed to capture either my imagination or interest. Imagine being on a boat surrounded by beautiful sights, smells, and sounds and just when your anticipation for your upcoming excursion has reached its apex, you are kindly told to get out. Of course, the obvious response would be, “But, we haven’t GONE anywhere yet.” This is exactly what this story felt like…an abundance of artistry surrounding a journey to nowhere. Secondly, I think Barry has built his entire story on a false premise. Given the fact that Roseanne is nearing the century mark, her health is failing, she has spent almost sixty years in an infinitely convalescent state, and her mental capacity is such that neither she nor the evaluating psychiatrist can determine fact from fiction, why is this “evaluation” even taking place? It’s clearly a nonstarter.
I finished this book with the singular purpose of providing an honest review, which I cannot do unless the entire book has been read. After a very long two weeks, I am able to move on with life for this book is now done as is this review. By my rating, this is clearly not the worst book that I’ve ever come across, but it certainly is far from being an award winner which is why I placed it squarely in the middle. I wish I could have loved it as much as so many others undoubtedly did, but its draw and praises have left me as clouded and confused as the mind of our aged and sympathetic centenarian heroine.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
**Want more? Visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket