The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry

Title: The Secret Scripture
Author: Sebastian Barry
ISBN: 0670019402
Pages: 304
Release Date: June 12, 2008
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

From the dust jacket:

As a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, as her hundredth year draws near, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and she decides to record the events of her life.

As Roseanne revisits her past, hiding the manuscript beneath the floorboards in her bedroom, she learns that Roscommon Hospital will be closed in a few months and that her caregiver, Dr. Grene, has been asked to evaluate the patients and decide if they can return to society. Roseanne is of particular interest to Dr. Grene, and as he researches her case he discovers a document written by a local priest that tells a very different story of Roseanne’s life than what she recalls. As doctor and patient attempt to understand each other, they begin to uncover long-buried secrets about themselves.

Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, The Secret Scripture is an epic story of love, betrayal, and unavoidable tragedy, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on individual lives for much of the twentieth century.

I first heard about The Secret Scripture when it was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Though it didn’t win, the description captivated my imagination and I knew I wanted to read it.

I’m not sure what I expected from the novel, but I can say that I was surprised by its contents. I suppose between the title and description, I was expecting a sort of gothic mystery with a secret at the center of the novel. That was definitely not the case with The Secret Scripture; it was a mystery, but it was also the history of one woman and the story of what really happened to her.

I really enjoyed the novel. The setting, Ireland, plays a significant role within the book and it is interesting to see how the Catholic Church played a major part in the nation’s development. It’s always nice to learn something from a book, especially when it’s unexpected.

Award-winning (or in this case, nominated) novels usually conjure up an image of a thick, heavy book that is slow and difficult to read. Fortunately, that is not the case for The Secret Scripture at all. The novel flows smoothly and keeps the reader hooked from beginning to end. The mysteries of Roseanne’s past, and why she was committed to the asylum in the first place, propel the story forward.

I definitely recommend this novel to anyone who is looking to stray into literary fiction. The book is interesting and keeps the reader’s attention without being too long or heavy. It’s an enticing book that is easy to enjoy.


  1. This one sounds great!

  2. I loved this book. I was glad it won the Costa Prize this year after missing out on the Booker Prize to The White Tiger. I’ve read both and Barry is a more lyrical writer, which I enjoy. Not to say Tiger wasn’t a great read too-it’s just a difference in the way language is used.

  3. I am looking forward to reading this book one of these days. I am glad to hear you enjoyed it!

  4. This does sound like a really good book. Another for the list this year. Great review Swapna.

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