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The Secret Scripture (McNulty Family)

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  8,801 ratings  ·  1,584 reviews
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 H
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Faber and Faber (first published April 2nd 1998)
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20th out of 388 books — 459 voters
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Community Reviews

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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
Jan 14, 2009 Kate rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jen
First, if you're going to read this, please don't read the goodreads description.

I can't say this with absolute certainty, having read none of the other novels, but considering what I've heard about the Booker shortlist I'm surprised this didn't win. I guess it's part of the Booker's recent campaign to honor what is "fresh" and "important" rather than, you know. Good.

This book didn't change my world, but it was good. It's made up mostly of recollections by its very elderly narrator, but the way
Eva Mitnick
Whew, Irish literature is always so painful to read. Brutality, cruelty, pathos, religion - set against a backdrop of famine and war. The smooth-as-fine-whiskey writing and the completely beguiling character of Roseanne - a 100-year-old woman who gives us an intimate glimpse into not only her tumultuous history but also her inner girlish self - kept me reading, even when I didn't want to know what bad thing would happen next. Dr. Grene is more down-to-earth, but he has his own contemplative side ...more
I really loved this book, all of it, the prose, the content, the Irish-ness of it. The words are chosen so well that they flow smoothly in telling the story. Memory is a center of the tale as is Ireland and fate as in all Irish stories. There is love and hate, war but no real peace. There is always misunderstanding, but there are occasional attempts to move beyond this.

The ending was foreshadowed to some degree but I didn't mind that at all. Once again it fits with the fateful-ness and Irish nat
My goodreads account shall not be a five-star fund, at least not without some explanation...
I began this book weary of the two narrators: a centennarian who has spent the last half century in a mental hospital; and her sixty-five-year old doctor. Alas, they are malleable and one need not worry about being bogged down in their unsavoury minutiae. At times, however, it is difficult to buy these two characters as authentic narrators of the sections alternately titled "Roseanne's Testimony or Hersel
I loved this book. The imagery was beautiful, the narrator voices were strong and heart-felt and I just - I connected. I loved the story being told, the story that lay underneath, the mysteries that were never quite solved and even more the ones that were.

This ranks up there as one of the best books I've read in a long time - and I've read some pretty strong contenders lately!

The story is told by alternating narrators - the secret scribblings of a woman nearing her 100th birthday in a mental ho
A slow but compelling thriller which covers the mysterious circumstances of an interned patient in a mental hospital in rural 40s Ireland.
The supposedly "disturbed" character, Roseanne, now a hundred years old, and who has been interned for more than 50 years, is writing a secret journal in which she tells, little by little, the real story of her life.
It's a sad but smartly and touching account of an extremely beautiful young woman who is cheated by the social system of her time. A society that
Sebastian Barry is an Irish author who writes with lyricism that makes his prose sing. Reading a book by Barry is a sheer joy.

Confined to an Irish mental institution as a young woman for social reasons, the reader meets Roseane Cleary McNulty as an old woman writing her life story in a journal, which she hides under the floor in her room in the same mental institution. She has been a resident in the asylum for so long that no one knows why she was committed or how old she really is. The "secret
The author slowly weaves together two heart-wrenching and tragic versions of the life of Roseanne McNulty, a 100-year old woman residing (for much of her adult life) in a psychiatric asylum. The first version is Roseanne’s own elusive and often unreliable past recollection, recorded in her secret journal, hidden in the floorboards of her room. Another version is slowly revealed by her psychiatrist; Dr. Grene, as he investigates her sketchy past records and evaluates her suitability for release i ...more
I raced through this in two afternoons; I loved it. The unusual, lyrical prose is mesmerising and I found both narrative voices compelling from the start. I was desperate to know more about Roseanne's story and I relished the way its details were slowly revealed, not necessarily in the 'right' order but in a perfectly controlled sequence that made the detailed events all the more spellbinding. If I had to make any criticism of the plot, it would be that the final twist of the connection between ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Tragic and heartbreaking in that very Irish way of being tragic and heartbreaking. But also very tender and beautifully written in that very Irish style of tender and beautiful writing.

Don't let the title fool you into thinking this is about religion. It refers to a life story being written by a 100-year-old woman. No one knows she is writing it, and she keeps it hidden "like a secret scripture."

I recommend avoiding amateur reviews of the book. If you accidentally read a spoiler it will ruin yo
I just read an article about Ian McEwan in which he said that suspense is built by the withholding of information. This wonderful novel illustrates the masterful application of that principle. Complex and involving, the story is told by two narrators, and this dual narration is handled here much more adeptly and interestingly than it was by Julia Glass in I See You Everywhere. The two narrators are both flawed but sympathetic, and as their stories unfold the reading becomes intense! Highly recom ...more
the epistolary/diarist style didn't really work for me, i could see why roseanne would write a personal memoir but i didn't find a valid reason for the doctor's diary, especially at the points when he was merely transcribing the written notes of others... far fetched. it seemed like a structural gimmick rather than good storytelling.

i haven't read long long way or eneas mcnulty and i found it to be a hinderance--the references to eneas in the first half were confusing. i think they were meant to
This book gripped me right from the begining and drew me in so much that halfways through the story I realised this was fiction and not a true story, the characters are great and so real, there were parts of this book that I would exclaim out loud. I would really recommend this book to anyone.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
As is the case in Irish literature (and Barry novels come to that) Ireland, war and the Catholic Church are major players in the guessing game of Roseanne Clear's life. Whose account is true, the diary of an expectantly senile, presumably nuts centenarian or the record of an "all-knowing, stern-minded, and entirely unforgiving" priest who might have been the very person responsible for Roseanne's admittance to the asylum? Its a very sad story and I had the unfortunate luck of taking it on during ...more
This is a book that needs to be read in as few sittings as possible. I strongly recommend that you don't keep picking it up and putting it down as I did in the middle of the book. It is a suspense story--and like all such tales, you lose that sense of suspense if your reading is constantly interrupted.

Having said that, I still think this is the least enjoyable of the short-listed Booker Prize books I've read so far (please note: it's much better than other books I've rated 3 stars, but does suf
Elderly Roseanne McNulty is writing her memoirs, her secret scripture, as her days in the Irish insane asylum are ending. The asylum will be closing and Dr. Gaunt’s trying to weed through which residents should be let back into society and which will transfer to the newer but smaller facility. Gaunt is a recent widower and is still feeling acute lose as well as regrets for mistakes he made in his marriage. Roseanne and Gaunt begin to spend time together overtly so Gaunt can reach a conclusion ab ...more
If this was the first Sebastian Barry novel I had read, I, too, would have given it 5 stars. But I've read two others, and I know what he's capable of. Barry's verbal pyrotechnics dazzle and amaze.

Some passages literally take your breath away, and, yes, there are such verbal displays in this novel, too. However, they occur only when Roseanne's story is being told. In fact, this reads as if Barry wrote Roseanne's story first, and, for whatever reason, decided to juxtapose it with Dr. Grene's. Ce
There's something about this book I didn't love as much as I did its sort-of-prequel "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty." But still I liked this one a lot, the way the slow beginning sets the scene for the wonderful middle sections. I felt disappointed by the later sections, though I thought the last line of the book was absolutely perfect.

Perhaps it's simply the absence of Roseanne's voice later on that I missed, though it's not that I disliked the other narrator -- I just liked Roseanne so muc
It took me awhile to finish this book because
1. Sebastian Barry is the master of literally breathtaking prose, sentences that are so beautiful that you kind of stop breathing while you're reading them and then the lack of oxygen starts to take its toll and you have to put the book down because you feel dizzy;
and 2. The sentences are so beautiful but what they're saying is so unbelievably, crushingly sad and heartbreaking that there's only so much pain and heartbreak you can take before you hav
I listened to the audio version, which may have made a huge impact on my enjoyment of it. I don't know that I would be so enthused had I read a physical copy myself.

I am not one to much care for the saga of someone's life. I want action. BUT... This book is a marvel.

The tale from a youthful 100 year old woman in her wonderful Irish brogue, and the author’s lyrical prose made my heart swell with fondness and admiration...for both.
Reham Alrukhaimi
This is one good novel. One of the best drama novels I’ve read this year. The book tells the story of Roseanna, a one-hundred-year-old woman. She now resides in a mental hospital. Roseanna, who seems perfectly healthy compared to her age, writes her life story and keeps it hidden. She refuses to tell her doctors her story, but decided to pin it down, so whoever has it after her death would learn about her true story. Her life entangles with her psychiatrist, Dr. Grene. The hospital will be moved ...more
In this book, 100-year old Irish Roseanne McNulty has been institutionalized for so long that no record exists of why she is there. She seems content as she watches the seasons change from out of the window of her uper floor room. It is this contentment at being distanced from the world that impresss upon the reader that the outside world must in some way have been hard or cruel to her. She has decided to write down her story, beginning with her childhood. But, Dr. Grene, the hospital's psychiat ...more
Steve Lindahl
The Secret Scripture was a book club selection for the Constant Reader group on Goodreads. It was the first time I've followed their lead in choosing a novel and I will certainly look to their list for more. Sebastian Barry's use of language is beautiful.

The story tells about the protestant/catholic conflict in Ireland during the early 20th century, a setting I don't know much about. The destructive effect of the conflict on the life of Roseanne McNulty is powerful, but she handles her situation
Sam Woodfield
I have to say I was slightly disappointed with this novel as I found the end very predictable and a real non-event. The main bulk of the novel is beautifully written, with magically portreyed characters that provoke empathy, sympathy and a whole other mixture of emotions all at the same time. I thought Barry's characters were very believable and really were beautifuly constructed. The description of Rosanne's life from 2 perspectives was also really well done.

However, mid-way through, at the fi
Lolly LKH
Oh how scary a thing relgion can be and has been. What a heartbreaking novel! This book tells really, what horrors and ruination religion and 'holy' intentions can have on a person, particularly a woman. At least, that is what I came away with. Seemed the meddling of a priest did far more harm than 'holy' good. Though this is the old ireland, truth tell one never knows when the tide will turn again and some dominant religion will come rounding up those who are not a part of the flock. How many o ...more
Nancy Oakes
Well, Sebastian Barry has done it again. I love his work and this one is no exception. I couldn't even talk after I finished this book (which is rare...I always have something to say!), and I was a wee bit choked up. may want to have a tissue at the ready. I read this in just about 3 hours and couldn't stop reading it except to fetch cookies out of the oven every 12 minutes. A beautiful book and one that really made me a bit angry when I think about it...the treatment of this young woma ...more
aPriL eVoLvEs (ex-Groot)
This is a realistic portrait of Ireland in the 1930's, in a poor county that was ruled by an iron hand of the Catholic Church, Father Gaunt. Ireland was ending a Civil War as well as gaining limited rights to govern itself from England. Echoes of those wars were only dimly understood by the little girl Roseanne, whose Protestant father worked at a Catholic cemetery. (view spoiler) ...more
I thought it was very skillfully constructed and written; I reckon I might read it again; and I'd like to read the author's related book.

I think that part of the reason I enjoyed this so much dates to my 25-years-ago obsession with James Joyce. Not only did I feel, reading this, that it owed much to Joyce and resembled Joyce, in style and voice (Portrait of the Artist and Dubliners more than Ulysses, though there's some Ulysses in there too); but I also realized that I am very much at home in th
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Goodreads All Sorts: The Secret Scripture 4 56 May 01, 2013 07:06PM  
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Sebastian Barry is an Irish playwright, novelist and poet. He is noted for his dense literary writing style and is considered one of Ireland's finest writers

Barry's literary career began in poetry before he began writing plays and novels. In recent years his fiction writing has surpassed his work in the theatre in terms of success, having once been considered a playwright who wrote occasional nove
More about Sebastian Barry...

Other Books in the Series

McNulty Family (4 books)
  • The Only True History of Lizzie Finn/the Steward of Christendom/White Woman Street: Three Plays (Methuen Modern Plays)
  • The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty
  • The Temporary Gentleman
A Long Long Way On Canaan's Side The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty Annie Dunne (Dunne Family #2) The Temporary Gentleman

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“After all the world is indeed beautiful and if we were any other creature than man we might be continuously happy in it.” 78 likes
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