Flaubert once wrote that novels are the private histories of nations. Sebastian Barry’s subject is the history of his native land, Ireland, in the early part of the 20th century, with its shifting allegiances, its barbarous tribalisms and its long-remembered slights.
THE SECRET SCRIPTURE
By Sebastian Barry
Viking. $24.95 - UK 16.99 Faber
In the modern-day West of Ireland, Roseanne McNulty, nearly 100 years old, has been imprisoned for decades in the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. This big 18th-century pile is about to be torn down, and the hospital’s chief psychiatrist, Dr. Grene, has come to evaluate Roseanne to see if she is fit to be released into the general population.
The two begin writing parallel accounts of their meetings, each of which becomes a secret scripture of their lives. Roseanne tells the story of how she, once a great beauty, came to be put in the home. Dr. Grene describes his own private anguish, the break-up of his marriage over his single infidelity, and his wife’s death, interspersed with his notes on Roseanne’s case.