The Secret Scripture / Sebastian Barry

My introduction to Barry’s work was On Canaan’s Side, an enchanting novel that left me impressed with this Irish author.  When I picked up The Secret Scripture, I was anticipating to solidify my appreciation of his canon.  But this earlier novel left me feeling slightly disappointed.  It presents the story of Roseanne McNulty, a young woman coming of age following Ireland’s independence from Great Britain.  She is one of the most beautiful girls in County Sligo, but an outsider of sorts since her family is Protestant rather than Catholic.  As she revisits her past, Rosanne is a patient in a mental hospital and nearing the century mark age-wise.  The hospital she has called home for many decades is about to be closed, and its head, Dr. Grene, has taken an interest in her case as he decides where she will be moved to once the facility is closed.  The story alternates between Roseanne’s account about her troubled life and Grene’s attempt to piece together what brought her as a patient to his hospital in the first place.  I found Grene to be a more interesting character than Roseanne herself.  While the novel is certainly an engaging one, I thought the writing lacked the poetic aspects that made On Canaan’s Side so special.  The book’s twist ending I also found a bit too contrived.  That said, the novel justifies my appreciation of Barry as an author, even though it is not in the same league of his later work.  Nonetheless, his other novels remain on my “to read” list.  Yet, because he set the bar so high with On Canaan’s Side, I could not help being slightly disappointed with this earlier effort.

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