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The Secret Scripture (McNulty Family)

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  11,088 Ratings  ·  1,892 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 2008)
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Rushabh Mehta A part of the brilliance of the book is how the book never mentions anything negative in specific, but just refers to it. For example, to indicate…moreA part of the brilliance of the book is how the book never mentions anything negative in specific, but just refers to it. For example, to indicate that the main character was about to have ... , Barry writes, "He put his leg up against mine. I did not mind that."(less)
Rushabh Mehta 1. What is the meaning of truth?
2. What is the value of life?
3. Gender, Religious relations
4. Redemption
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Best Irish Literature
17th out of 445 books — 533 voters
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Best Irish Books
16th out of 492 books — 420 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Petra X
Jun 04, 2015 Petra X rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Petra X by: Dolors
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 if 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
Sep 25, 2009 Manny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 31, 2015 Jen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 4-stars-or-more
The Secret Scriptures is a remarkable holy grail of writing.
Barry masterfully writes a poetic psychological mystery where he magically weaves a story of 2 voices: One of Roseanne McNulty, who now sits in a mental institution and has for the past 40 odd years of her 100 year life; and the other of her psychiatrist, Dr Grene, who has known her for the duration of her stay. Roseanne sits in her room as she nears the end of her life, reflecting back through the daily journal she writes and hides in
Aug 22, 2016 Kalliope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Reading this novel I have felt as if I were peeling two onions: one yellow, one purple. First one, then the other, and back to the first and so on. My illusion was that after peeling its outer tunic and I proceeded to remove, slowly and gradually each scale leaf, I was lifting a veil and approaching the inner bud, a hidden core. The truth.

The yellow onion has less thinner and finer leaves. In their frailty and subtler delicacy of colour, they are as the veiled and vulnerable memories of an old
Oct 16, 2015 ❀Julie rated it it was amazing
I’m going with 5 stars since three days after finishing, I’m still thinking about how good this book was. It had me completely captivated from start to finish. The story was subtle but chilling, with many layers of tragedy and dark elements (a cemetery, rats, and a disturbing priest to name a few…not to mention the suspicion of the sanity of the main character). But the writing was beautiful and not a single word was wasted. I loved the gothic-like atmosphere that was created and how it tied in ...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
Jan 14, 2009 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  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
Cathrine ☯
Oct 20, 2015 Cathrine ☯ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

"Roseanne had always lived on the edges of our known world...'This is a decent place, if not home. If this were home I would go mad!'"

How gracious she is to say that when a mental institution is a kinder place than home. What exactly happened to her and who's version of the retelling can you trust? A psychological mystery weaving back and forth in time over a period of almost 90 years, I had different sensations reading this atmospheric tale. Not a long book but the pacing got a bit monotonous
Diane S ☔
Oct 20, 2015 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Catholic Church was all powerful, a time in Ireland when religious and political factions cause almost unceasing distress and death. A young beautiful woman, a protestant woman, dares to fall in love with a Catholic but will end up spending a great part of her one-hundred years inside a psychiatric institution. Why and how did this happen?

A story written down by a very old woman, an account of the priest uncovered by Doctor Grene who is charged with discovering which of the residents, patien
Eva Mitnick
Dec 04, 2008 Eva Mitnick rated it really liked it
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
Jan 13, 2016 Britany rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Really wanted to like this one-- the summary sounded like something I would fall right into-- but alas, I trudged, slugged, and finally finished this book. Disappointed that I never connected to the characters or the story at all, surprised to find myself at this end of the spectrum when so many others enjoyed this one.

Roseanne Clear has been living in Roscommon- a mental facility for the past 80 some odd years. Roscommon is being demolished and Dr. Grene is tasked with figuring out which patien
Oct 10, 2015 ☮Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, read-in-2015
Wavering between 4 and 5 stars here. I loved this book and I am certain I would have loved it even more with a printed page in front of me rather than an MP3 version, where what tried to be an Irish accent sorely failed in my opinion.

There is a big twist at the end, which of course raised it up a full rating point for me. I think that twist answered so many questions, yet I still have many and am certain again that I would find those answers on the printed page.

It is a beautiful, sad story tha
“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.”

So begins Sebastian Barry’s saga of a woman and history of a land that is known for its myths and vibrant story telling. I am not usually a person who notices first lines. I know it is blasphemy in the world of readers and reading but very few first lines make me want to quote them. This is
Connie (Ava Catherine)
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
Jul 26, 2016 Solistas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"...Εντέλει ο κόσμος είναι στ'αλήθεια θαυμάσιος κι αν ήμασταν ένα οποιοδήποτε άλλο πλάσμα και όχι άνθρωποι ίσως και να 'μασταν αδιάκοπα ευτυχείς".

Ένα υπέροχο κομψοτέχνημα είναι Η μυστική γραφή, έργο ενός μεγάλου στιλίστα και χωρίς αμφιβολία και μεγάλου συγγραφέα. Απ'αυτούς που παίρνουν μια μάλλον προβλέψιμη πλοκή και τη μετατρέπουν σε ένα μαγικό βιβλίο που έχει για πρωταγωνίστρια μια απ'τις πλέον δυνατές ηρωίδες που έχω συναντήσει τα τελευταία χρόνια στα βιβλία που επιλέγω να διαβάσω, τη φοβερή
Feb 07, 2009 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 31, 2014 Dolors rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
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
Mar 23, 2014 Carol rated it really liked it
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
Jul 25, 2008 Tracy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, ebook, kindle
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
I "reread" this via audiobook. This is an excellent way to read this book as the story is primarily narration by Roseanne Clear and Dr. William Grene, psychiatrist at the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. Roseanne's story takes the entire book to be revealed, and is full of personal and family secrets. The reason for Roseanne confinement is one of those secrets or mysteries. This was the era when women were confined to mental hospitals and Magdelene laundries for their "sins", often the sin of ...more
Vimal Thiagarajan
Jun 25, 2016 Vimal Thiagarajan rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker
This novel by Sebastian Barry has some of the most exquisite and painfully beautiful prose that I've ever come across.Its one of those books in which every other page seems to have something quotable. The story traces the murky history of the now 100-year old Roseanne McNulty, who has been institutionalized since she was a young woman and has endured a long life of extreme isolation and anonymity. The story is told alternatively through two voices, that of Roseanne herself and that of her Psychi ...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"
Jan 30, 2010 Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeanette by: Julie
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
Jun 10, 2011 Dem rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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.
Apr 17, 2010 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Susan Johnson
Apr 02, 2016 Susan Johnson rated it liked it
This was not my favorite book. Although beautifully written, it was another sad indictment of wasted lives due to society's constrictions. Roseanne, the protagonist, never really had a chance in life. A Protestant in Catholic Ireland, father in the police and then demoted to rat catcher, crazy mother and beautiful, she just swam against the current in life and lost.

I did find the twists very contrived and made just to prove the author's point of view. The mother-in-law's revelations especially
Aug 01, 2015 Richard rated it really liked it
Mmm....kind of brilliant but a little frustrating. An amazing story spreading over a century of Irish history and like all well written 'stories' it tells history better than a textbook.

I found it a little frustrating as just when we seemed to be getting to really know the two main characters they retreat again.

A lot of people have loved and will love this.
I was disappointed with this book as I've heard such great things about the author. While there were some beautifully poetic lines about life, history and honesty, throughout the story, I never connected with the characters. It felt like both characters at times were unreliable storytellers. Choosing which parts to tell. This seemed to be a point the author was trying to put across but i felt it doesn't work coming from the narrator. The twist at the end was quite a shock but didn't make up for ...more
Feb 27, 2009 Julie rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 01, 2016 Girish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sebastian Barry's Booker shortlist is a bag of pain and suffering - occassionaly transferred to the sympathetic reader through beautiful prose. Set in civil war Ireland of 1930s, in the backdrop of catholic church's power struggle, the book has a tone of a melancholic war poem all along.

Roseanne is more than 100 years old, a patient at the Roscommon Asylum(that is on the brink of being torn down). Her doctor William Grene has to assess if she is fit enough to be let back into 'normal life'. And
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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

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“Because it strikes me there is something greater than judgement. I think it is called mercy.” 85 likes
“After all the world is indeed beautiful and if we were any other creature than man we might be continuously happy in it.” 85 likes
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