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For history as far as I can see is not the arrangement of what happens, in sequence and in truth, but a fabulous arrangement of surmises and guesses held up as a banner against the assault of withering truth The Secret Scripture is a sublime work of fiction about memory and its effect on history and truth It s about love and loss, grief, religion and Ireland It nearly broke my heart, but left me with a glimpse of joy and hope It s a slow unraveling of the mystery surrounding the reason why Roseanne McNulty has been institutionalized at the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital for the past sixty years of her nearly one hundred years of life Her story is gradually revealed through her own narrative as recorded in a hidden journal as well as through inquiries made by Dr Grene, the psychiatrist charged with her care Roscommon is slated to shut down and Dr Grene must determine which patients, if any, were wrongfully committed for reasons other than mental instability The point of view alternates between Roseanne s voice and that of Dr Grene What Roseanne tells us and what Dr Grene uncovers from old documents are two different versions of the truth Dr Grene must determine which to believe and how these stories ultimately matter in his own decision regarding Roseanne s fate in her old ageThe one thing that is fatal in the reading of impromptu history is a wrongful desire for accuracy There is no such thing Roseanne s story is a tragic one and my heart ached for this gentle soul left abandoned due to the ignorance and prejudices of other human beings A Protestant in a country ravaged by civil war, Roseanne is a victim of the power of the Irish Catholic Church in the early 1900s Father Gaunt is a symbol of the perversion of the influences of the church at that time over the lives and the moral judgments of those in its pathMorality has its own civil wars, with its own victims in their own time and place The story is told slowly and is one to be read with quiet contemplation, allowing Sebastian Barry s extraordinary prose to wash over and captivate you I closed the book with a feeling of absolute contentment despite the grim journey I will no doubt read of this author s work and am in fact anxious to do so I highly recommend this five star bookThere are things that move at a human pace before our eyes, but other things move in arcs so great they are as good as invisible Fare thee well sweet Anna Liffy I can no longer stay And watch me new glass cages that spring up along me Ouay My mind s too full of memories too old to hear new chimes l m a part of what was Dublin in the rare ould timesDublin in the Rare Ould Times, Dublin City Ramblers, Songwriters Pete St John for the Dublin City Ramblers Roseanne s Testimony of Herself Patient, Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, 1957 The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say He forgot to say, with every death it ends Or did not think he needed to Because for a goodly part of his life he worked in a graveyard The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves I am an old, old woman now, I may be as much as a hundred, though I do not know, and no one knows I am only a thing left over, a remnant woman, and I do not even look like a human being no , but a scraggy stretch of skin and bone in a bleak skirt and blouse, and a canvas jacket, and I sit here in my niche like a songless robin no, like a mouse that died under the hearthstone where it was warm and lies now like a mummy in the pyramids Roseanne McNulty has lived at the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital years of her adult life than not, she sits and waits but not impatiently for whatever end awaits In those hours she writes the story of her life in the hopes that after she s gone someone will believe the truth of her words, finally.Her psychiatrist, Dr Grene, keeps his own journal Dr Grene s Commonplace Book Senior Psychiatrist, Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital He contemplates the decline of the building that houses these patients, and of the need to move to a newer building, and his views on Roseanne with the new hospital not being large enough to house all of their current patients He wants to make the best decision for her in her remaining time Those patients who he feels were unfairly committed, can, will be let go, as there are fewer rooms in the new facility It s through their journals that their stories emerge, a story of those years that make up Roseanne s life, how she came to be a patient in this place, but also a story of Ireland Of the times Ignorance War Conflict Love Passion Family Loss Grief Religion About memories and how our lives are built around them, and how they can come to haunt us Perhaps sometimes they can save us, as well.This tale unravel slowly, as tales of a lifetime are wont to do, meandering a bit here and there through time and place, through the morals of the time, and the music ah yes, the music the places and people It is a poignant one, her memories of her life with her father as a child, through her teenage years, her marriage, and on through the point where the whole story of Roseanne s life finally comes to the surface, and we know her truth.Last fall I read Barry sDays Without End,and loved it, loved how beautifully written it was Another beautiful, contemplative novel by this author, I am already looking forward to reading of his works, but first I just want to dwell in this lovely moment and contemplate or, as my grandfather used to say sit a spell and ponder Recommended Sexuality in beautiful young women in backward societies is a double edged sword On the one hand it attracts young men, sometimes into marriage, and on the other it can seem to justify the accusation of being called a slut And should the woman have a baby outside marriage, then the accusation is proved and the girl condemned and if punishment follows, it will be considered validated.It s not much different today, is it Call a girl a slut and people look at her askance Not a nice person, not someone you d want to mix with But today the punishment is generally only social exclusion from hypocritical social groups Back then, in the time of this book after the Civil War in Ireland, it could mean being locked up in mental home for the rest of their lives.And now the girl, the woman, the old lady who is a century old is telling her tale to her doctor He is a gentle, understanding, unfulfilled man who is doing his best for his patients who now these old institutions are being dissolved, must re enter the world or adapt to a modern mental home.He listens to Roseanne s story, he asks people about her, and discovers a document that tells a different story from her conversation But there is still another story, the one she is writing of her life and hiding in the floorboards These stories and the doctor s intertwine and they both learn far about each other than they ever could have suspected It s quite an eye opening ending, and in retrospect that is what the story is leading to all along, but I found it too pat I thought the story of Roseanne and the Troubles with all the violence and wickedness of those timeswere good enough to stand on their own without a contrived conclusion So 4 stars 4.5 stars Ok, I really enjoyed it 5 stars Are you an honest person Truly Perhaps you instinctively think Yes , even as you realise you are not always scrupulously so, often for the best of reasons Often But not always One can t be totally honest all the time, can one Can one What is truth anyway, but a social construct What s wrong about her account if she sincerely believes itThere is no factual truth. It matters that the person is admirable, living, and complete what a curious trio of adjectives.In a post truth era, on a big day for possibly fake news a euphemism for lies and propaganda , our collective ability to recognise truth slips ever further from our grasp StoriesThis is stories of centenarian Roseanne s lives The tides of two world wars and a civil war bring opportunity, fear, birth, death, deceit, despair, and change crashing, crushing, on the shores of Sligo She s approaching her 100th birthday, and has been in asylums for around seventy years Dr Grene has to gently uncover Roseanne s story to see if she should move to a new, smaller institution or if the truth will set her free for care in the community a term he knows is inaccurate This isn t really about madness versus sanity though it s an issue for many characters or even incarceration It s about telling stories to hide the truth as well as to reveal it Roseanne and Dr Grene are both writing accounts of the past, especially Roseanne s past, in part to avoid considering the future Each is unaware the other is doing so The reader experiences layers of contradiction, distance and distortion from the passage of time, deep trauma, and efforts to protect from shame or guilt.And then there is a third written testimony, from Fr Gaunt, and remnants of official records A little apocryphal gospel which readers get second hand via Dr Grene, and which are further muddied when the doctor realises he s filling in gaps that Fr Gaunt did not Another layer of embroidery.And what about the unknown hand who brought all the narratives together How do we untangle the truth Which version of the tower and feathers and hammers is true Could it even be both Why are they writing No plot spoilers, just background notes and detail view spoiler Roseanne wants an honest minded history of myself because My secrets are my fortune and my sanity She has experienced the dire consequences of gossip and presumption than once, so There must be accuracy and rightness Dr Grene s writing is an extension of his work, a distraction from personal loss, and a sign of ongoing inner life that triggers ideas and insight Fr Gaunt s desire to tell the story illuminates it He is unburdening himself, as he might a sin A person without stories that outlive them becomes lost to family, lost to history, sad black names on within family trees, with half a date dangling after and a question mark.Roseanne s father relished telling stories from his life, but mother is singularly without stories and eventually mute She vanishes from the story hide spoiler Rose McNultry is almost 100 years old For most of her life she has been a patient in Roscommon Mental hospital in rural west Ireland This mad woman has lived here most of her adult life The hospital is going to be shut down and she is facing a scary future of being moved from where she has lived most of her life She has frequent talks with her therapist psychiatrist in the weeks leading up to the hospital s closure Her therapists job is to determine what to do with the patients left behind He needs to determine who is of sound mind but institutionalized against their will and who is mentally ill This also asks the question, if you are sane when you are institutionalized, will this prolonged treatment render you insane Rose has been keeping a journal of her life which she keeps hidden under the floorboards of her room She only takes her journals out when it is safe It is through her journal entries that we learn about her past Her relationship with her parents she had a loving father and a mother who distances herself from her daughter Rose falls in love with a young Man who has a domineering Mother who does not approve of her Catholic son being with a Presbyterian young woman Father Gaunt makes sure that Rose does not marry the young man she is in love with The priest s misogyny, mistrust and dislike for women is Rose s downfall Ireland s history comes into play as does the Catholic church who puts away those are different, who are sexual or deemed loose A priest s word is law back then and troublemakers are removed from society As a result, tragedy, cruel treatment and prejudice ensues.I enjoyed how the story went back and forth telling Rose s story then and her story now For some reason, the jumping back and forth between decades made Rose s story sad poignant I could feel her loneliness and pain I, unlike Rose, would have been mad as hell at having been locked up all those years I would have raged and fought She chose the path of forgiveness She is a survivor There is something quite beautiful in her ability to sit with her loss and loneliness and forgive those who have wronged her This book is beautifully written It s a big book with a lot of heart It has a very poetic and Gothic feel to it For some reason, while reading this book, I thought of other Gothic books such as Jane Eyre These books are not the same and do not have similar story lines, but they do both have a lot of atmosphere and have the same type of dreary feel to them.See of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com Last month my book club read Sebastian Barry s Days Without End , and we all loved it unconditionally That almost never happens So our hostess up for the April read decided to assign another of Barry s books, although she had some reservations that it might compare unfavorably to the one we thought so highly of How can it possibly be as good, she asked She needn t have worried, because it was as good, but in a different way The language was still soaring and poetic, the characters just as soulful, and the story What a story The tale is told through two journals, one by the psychiatrist needing to assess an elderly patient before the insane asylum she has been in for 60 years is demolished, and the other by the patient herself, 100 year old Roseanne Clear or McNulty, depending on whose story can be believed There is also a brief deposition by the Catholic priest responsible for her incarceration, and for many of her woes, and I sincerely hope there is a special place in Hell reserved for him.This is a multi layered novel, with little bits of truth and understanding poking through every once in a while Even so, I had to read the climax four times just to believe it I still get chills thinking about it.Even though the setting is from 1907 2007, it reads like a Victorian novel, maybe because of the handwritten journals and the Irish locales.This was a complete departure from some of my other recent reading, and I was completely swept up in the story So much so that I continue to wish Father Gaunt consigned to that special place in Hell. A wonderful, poetic book about love and memory Also pain, and loss, and how you can miss the most important thing in the world, even though it s right under your nose Ireland too, of course.We re all innocent Roseanne, locked up in an asylum for decades for no reason, or because she happened to be born with the wrong religion, or because the jealous people around her find her beauty too disturbing She never really knows why, but she manages to forgive her tormentors anyway, even the cruel Fr Gaunt At the same time, we re poor Doctor Grene, who s messed up his own life and those of three other people, because he got drunk one evening and acted without thinking of the consequences.He creates fantastic images The burning rat Her mother s clock The German planes, flying low over the sea on their way to bomb Belfast The hammers and the feathers I can still see them falling. &Free E-pub ⇷ The Secret Scripture ⇬ 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 ComplicatesTold 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 Innocent BetrayalsSecret Scripture is a story of betrayals by those we love most, of them in turn by us but particularly our betrayal of ourselves in memory and history We betray ourselves through memories in which we both find and avoid guilt We are innocent because we are hapless when it comes to memory They are of us but neither reliable nor controllable by us Memories rarely comfort Good ones remind us of loss bad ones evoke regret Curiously, memories become dissociated from motives So the reasons for our actions at best appear incomprehensible at worst we end up condemning ourselves.According to Barry s fiction we don t calculate consequences either of betraying or of being betrayed we creep into situations which explode We did not intend these explosions which destroy the matrix of life They are beyond our control We are then trapped in the rubble of marriage, of family for an individual and, for a community or a nation, of the enemies we have created of one other Roseanne Clear, a centenarian confined in a mental hospital for seventy years is one such hapless victim a woman cheated of her life through hatefulness and the mendacity of those closest to her Roseanne, and her home of Sligo, also represent all of Ireland of the last century Her life spans everything, she is as much as we can know of our world, the last hundred years of it The fact is we are missing so many threads in our Irish story that the tapestry of Irish life cannot but fall apart There is nothing to hold it together Barry describes a drear and confused Ireland, a land of religiosity without moral principles populated by self righteous priests and their repressed and obedient congregations A land of fanatical peasants and their murderous leaders who have always blamed others for their murders, particularly the English whom they murdered as much as their own.But this description is also recognised as questionable by Barry It is a judgement based on history History is merely recorded memories and cannot be trusted As the doctor in charge of Roseanne s care comes to recognise, I am beginning to wonder strongly what is the nature of history most truth and fact offered by syntactical means is treacherous and unreliable The unreliability is not so much down to lies as incompleteness, axes to be ground, loyalties to be safeguarded Penetrating this morass seems impossible, but it sometimes can be done Reality is then found like a lost shilling on a floor of mud, glistening in some despair This is a highly emotional book It conjures sympathy, disgust, and ultimately hope in about equal measure It is honest rather than clever it is spare without being sparse It is very Irish and it is very good. A gem of a book, beautiful story, beautifully written I recommend this one to my friends