The Secret Scripture by Sebasian Barry, 300 pages
Booker Shortlisted 2008
I read somewhere that this book didn't win the Man Booker this year because the judges didn't want two Irish winners in a row. Instead, they chose The White Tiger set in India. I liked this one better overall, so it's too bad the Irish have been writing such great books recently- lots of misery to mine in their history.
Roseanne McNulty is over one hundred years old and she is writing her memoirs. At the same time, Dr Grene, the psychiatrist at her mental hospital is given the task of deciding where all the patients should be reassigned to, as the hospital is undergoing renovations as well as a health reform that is changing the criteria for who should be a patient. Roseanne slowly begins to reveal her history against the backdrop of Irish history - civil war and IRA. Why was she admitted to the hospital? What role did the local priest, Fr Gault, play in her life? What was wrong with Roseanne?
I liked this character study novel, but it may have been a bit too slow for my tired state of mind. I had it on 7-day loan from the library so I was rushing through it and read I while I was probably too tired. As a result, my review is a bit mixed. I really enjoyed the first 100 pages, and revelled in the writing and setting that Barry created. The middle third was slower, more emphasis on Dr Grene, and then the last third picked up again. There were layers here and parallels that I sensed I was not catching, it had that feel of 'real literature' that I don't always appreciate, but I still enjoyed the book. It reminded me of The Gathering, especially in the idea of memories, and how much you can trust memories of long ago.