The basic story is that of a doctor assessing an ancient patient's ability to be relocated when the mental hospital, where the one hundred year old woman has spent most of her life, is slated for demolition. The patient, Roseanne reveals her life before her institutionalization in an epistolary she keeps hidden under the floorboards. That history - tumultuous and tragic - isn't quite clear because Roseanne, while well-intentioned has the expected issues of memory loss and revision that come with one hundred years of living. Even if she is sane - and we're not at all sure of her mental state - what really happened and what she remembers or wants to remember may not the be same thing. What has she forgotten over the years? What has she reforged and altered to protect herself?
What of your personal history have you revised to protect yourself? That's a theme I find myself confronting over and over again on my other blog where I write 'memoir' and struggle to retrace my own footsteps. I can only tell my own truth, but it's painful to discover that doesn't always align with another's reality.Dr. Grene, her psychiatrist, at seventy plus years, isn't a young man himself. He's been caring for Roseanne for at least a quarter century, and his side of the story, his efforts to get to the truth of Roseanne's life, as well as the story of his own life, with its loves and losses, is told in his own words in an alternating narrative.
Both have compelling tales to tell but much of Roseanne's early years take place against a background that almost demands historical context. Sadly my knowledge of Irish history is shamefully small - as in close to zero - and Barry's writing is full of references to the Irish uprising and often veiled allusions to the surrounding political ramifications so there were notions that were difficult for me to fully fathom.
Vanessa Redgrave Now and Then (Camelot)
If you'd like to read a real review of Barry's The Secret Scripture from reviewers who have a greater understanding of literary criticism and the important historical context referenced in the novel, I've got two links for you to check out.
The New York Times
I won't assign rating points; I don't feel I'm qualified. As to 'enjoyment points'? Hmmm, I'd give it 3 out of 5 Irish roses.