The Secret Scripture
I was drawn to The Secret Scripture for several reasons. One, it has a good title. I’ve decided all books need a good title to really sell well or become embedded in our culture. Two, it was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and we all know how I love that award (most of the time).
It was the first time I’ve read a book by Sebastian Barry, and I loved the writing. I would definitely pick up another one of his books just to immerse myself in that kind of prose again.
As for the story, it comes down to a girl being screwed over throughout her life because 1) she’s Protestant in a mostly-Catholic Ireland; 2) her dad died; and 3) her mom’s crazy. Due to some combination of the three, she ends up spending the majority of her adult life in a mental hospital. Because a new facility is finally being built, but with fewer beds, the good doctor of the story is charged with assessing his patients to see if they’re actually nuts or can be released.
Given that Roseanne is nearly 100 years old, this is a bit of a moot point, but it provides the impetus for him to dig into why she was committed (what a thought, right?). At the same time, Roseanne has simultaneously secretly decided to write down her memories, which vary quite a bit from the official narrative of her commitment. Small wonder: if you’re crazy, clearly your version is going to be different from the people committing you, and if you’re not crazy, then someone was lying.
Either way, this does lead to some questions: how reliable is Roseanne’s narrative? How reliable are any of our memories, especially after 75 years? And are any of our experiences ever going to line up with another person’s, or will we all just have our own version of truth in the end?
I thought the story was very well told until about three-fourths of the way through when it became predictable. So while the novel was quite good, it stopped short of being amazing, which is probably why it didn’t win the Booker Prize and lost out to The White Tiger, a book I’ll probably read and review shortly as it’s sitting on my shelf. Still, the not every work has to be amazing to affect you, and I think my time was well-spent.
For an excerpt of the The Secret Scripture, read here.