The Secret Scripture

by Sebastian Barry
Ireland. 320 pages. 2008.

The Secret ScriptureThe latest from Barry (whose A Long Way was shortlisted for the 2005 Booker) pits two contradictory narratives against each other in an attempt to solve the mystery of a 100-year-old mental patient. That patient, Roseanne McNulty, decides to undertake an autobiography and writes of an ill-fated childhood spent with her father, Joe Clear. A cemetery superintendent, Joe is drawn into Ireland’s 1922 civil war when a group of irregulars brings a slain comrade to the cemetery and are discovered by a division of Free-Staters. Meanwhile, Roseanne’s psychiatrist, Dr. Grene, investigating Roseanne’s original commitment in preparation for her transfer to a new hospital, discovers through the papers of the local parish priest, Fr. Gaunt, that Roseanne’s father was actually a police sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. The mysteries multiply when Roseanne reveals that Fr. Gaunt annulled her marriage after glimpsing her in the company of another man; Gaunt’s official charge was nymphomania, and the cumulative fallout led to a string of tragedies.

Written in captivating, lyrical prose, Barry’s novel is both a sparkling literary puzzle and a stark cautionary tale of corrupted power.

About the author

Sebastian Barry; photo by Jerry BauerSebastian Barry (born July 5, 1955) is an Irish playwright, novelist, and poet. He has been shortlisted twice for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and has won the 2008 Costa Book of the Year.

He attended Catholic University School and Trinity College, Dublin. His academic posts have included Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1984), Villanova University (2006) and Writer Fellow at Trinity College, Dublin (1995-1996). Barry started his literary career with the novel Macker’s Garden in 1982. This was followed by several books of poetry and a further novel The Engine of Owl-Light in 1987 before his career as a playwright began with his first play produced in the Abbey theater, Boss Grady’s Boys in 1988.

Barry’s work in fiction came to the fore during the 1990s. His novel A Long Long Way was shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and was selected for Dublin’s 2007 One City One Book event.  Barry’s The Secret Scripture won the James Tait Black Prize for fiction (the oldest such award in the UK) and the 2008 Costa Book of the Year. It was also a favorite to win the 2008 Man Booker Prize, narrowly losing out to Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. —

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