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The Secret Scripture

Sebastian Barry

Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2008, over 600,000 copies sold in Faber editions

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Winner of the 2008 Costa Book of the Year
Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize 2008
Winner of the Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year 2008
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008
A Sunday Times Top 100 Novel of the Twenty-First Century
Featured on BBC2’s ‘Between the Covers’ as a Booker Gem 2021

Nearing her one-hundredth birthday, Roseanne McNulty faces an uncertain future, as the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital where she’s spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure. Over the weeks leading up to this upheaval, she talks often with her psychiatrist Dr Grene, and their relationship intensifies and complicates. Told through their respective journals, the story that emerges is at once shocking and deeply beautiful. Refracted through the haze of memory and retelling, Roseanne’s story becomes an alternative, secret history of Ireland’s changing character and the story of a life blighted by terrible mistreatment and ignorance, and yet marked still by love and passion and hope.

Critic Reviews

'Roseanne McNulty is almost a century old and has been imprisoned in a mental institution in the west of Ireland for many decades. But with the hospital facing closure, her psychiatrist Dr Grene conducts a series of interviews with her to assess her suitability for release into the community. Through the accounts that each of them keep of their meetings, Sebastian Barry allows a horrifying tale of death, duplicity and deception to unfold, as it becomes clear Roseanne has become tragically enmeshed in the tangles web of Ireland's history, politics and religion.'

London Review of Books
Critic Reviews

'People persist with ordinary life, because there is no other sort of life." Yet ordinary lives meander and circle and overflow and sometimes turn upside down; none of which can even begin to give a flavour of the breathtaking sinuosity of Sebastian Barry's fourth novel. It is narrated by Roseanne McNulty, who has been in a mental hospital for much of her life, and by her psychiatrist Dr Grene. Roseanne is ancient - maybe 100, nobody knows - and her doctor is distracted, both by grief at the death of his wife and alarm at the imminent closure of his asylum. They are, as the saying has it, a right pair; and they carry our interest and empathy as the storyline shifts and twists along the byways of Irish history and the ancient, secret paths of the human mind. The bookies' favourite for last year's Man Booker Prize, The Secret Scripture has just won the overall 2008 Costa Book of the Year award. "Exquisite...mesmerising...memorable...unique". Take your pick of the adjectives; just don't be put off by the hype. This is a great book by, arguably, our greatest living novelist.'

Irish Times
Critic Reviews

'Roseanne McNulty is almost the last denizen of a soon-to-be demolished asylum. No one knows how old she is, and no one can remember why she was committed in the first place. She knows, however, and tells her story to a manuscript which she keeps hidden. She remembers Sligo in her childhood and youth; her kindly Presbyterian father, a gravedigger; her Catholic neighbours, seemly but wary in their dealings with her family. Then comes the Irish Civil War, and the bloody cut drawn between family and friends in the cause of an Independent Ireland. Roseanne's mother goes mad, and events in this novel spiral ever further into chaos and pain. Roseanne's own - temporary - salvation comes in marriage to a jazz singer, who restores what love and order he can to her life. The shades of malevolent obscurantism are still abroad, however, and so she finds herself where she is. In the present, Dr Grene, a psychiatrist, has his own hidden text. He and Roseanne tell the story between them, in sweet, pellucid prose.'

Independent on Sunday
Critic Reviews

'Barry ... conjures up some exquisitely bleak scenes, and there is plenty of shame, religious mania and, of course, a very scary priest. Its strongest passages are those that deal with exploration of memory, and how it leads us down some strange byways, creating some fantastic twists.'

London Lite
Critic Reviews

'This superb exploration of the ways in which time, place and circumstance can have a devastating impact on someone's life has just won the Costa Book of the Year Award and deservedly so ... Barry's prose is simply beautiful.

Northern Echo
Critic Reviews

I would recommend this book to others ... I found it hard to put down.'

Woman’s Way (Reader review)

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. The current Laureate for Irish Fiction, his novels have twice won the Costa Book of the Year award, the Independent Booksellers Award and the Walter Scott Prize. He had two consecutive novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, A Long Long Way (2005) and the top ten bestseller The Secret Scripture (2008),…

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