February 02, 2009

Review: The Secret Scripture

The Secret Scriptures
by Sebastian Barry

When I found this at the library I knew I had to put all other books aside and read it. All the praise you've heard about it is true. The lyrical prose floats around you and settles on your tongue like a cool spring breeze. It's masterfully done.

Within the covers of this novel you will find the memoirs of Roseanne, a 100 year old woman that has been a guest in a mental hospital for most of her life. She is painstakingly writing out her life story for her doctor, then squirreling it away until just the right time to share it. As the readers we are privileged to read a section at a time as she tells us of her much admired father, her deranged mother and her troubled marriage. But interspersed with this autobiography are the diary entries of the man who is trying to assess her mental state, Dr. Grene, a man whose own life is messy. He often doubts his effectiveness and contradicts himself in a foamy sea of self-consciousness. Soon he is doing whatever it takes to find out about this woman, not so he can send her away but because of a driving need to know the truth.

But the bigger picture is whether or not truth is knowable. When history is subjective and memory is questionable, can we ever really know anything with confidence?

I hate to make such a comparison but the storyline was so similar to The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, dealing with an elderly woman locked up in her youth in a mental hospital and the slow uncovering of the facts about her life. But, though I liked the character of Esme, these books are fundamentally different. The writing, well I've already shared my feelings about Barry's ability to write well which is on a much higher level than in Esme Lennox. The characters in The Secret Scriptures are complete and worthy of the readers time and emotional investment which is not something I could say for Esme Lennox either. If you are considering reading both of these books, put Esme Lennox away and devote yourself fully to enjoying The Secret Scriptures. You will be much please with your selection.

There is a lot to this book that would make it a wonderful choice for discussion. Each scene could be picked apart to get at the juicy morsel at its core. I plan to reread it at some point, moving much slower through the text, taking note of special words and ideas that represent truths about life. This is the perfect book for studying in that manner. I wonder what a college professor would have to say about it?

While I was reading it The Secret Scriptures won the Costa Award. From their website:

"The Costa Book Awards is one of the most prestigious and popular literary prizes in the UK and recognises some of the most enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland."

It was also short listed for the Man Booker Award for 2008. It is a book well deserving of awards and accolades. It was a pleasure to read. Thank you Mr. Barry. I'll be looking for more from you in the future.

Buy this book at Amazon.


kelly simmons said...

Petunia -- I saw you entered the contest to win my book Standing Still on Lisa's blog (lisamm.wordpress.com) and just wanted to say that I also loved The Secret Scriptures and am glad you are promoting such a deserving book.


Zibilee said...

I have heard such good things about this book, and have been considering reading it, but your review pushed it from a "maybe" to a "must have". Thanks for the great review!

Petunia said...

Kelly-I'm always honored and a bit starstruck when an author visits my site. Thanks for your time and your comment.

Zibilee-Read it slowly and enjoy every moment of it.

Anonymous said...

That sounds so good. Thanks for the review.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

This book is on my wishlist and I had to laugh....The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is sitting unread (as of yet) on my shelf. So I lost out on the comparison. But I plan on reading them both and thanks for the review!