Over the last few days I have read Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, after having listened to him talking about it on a podcast, and feeling really intrigued. Of course, it was there on my tbr pile anyway.
The story of Roseanne McNulty is set in Ireland, in the 20’s and 30s, but also in the here and now. Looking back, a hundred years old, Roseanne narrates her story, she’s in an institution, and hides her writing under the floor boards of her room, hides them from Dr. Grene, who comes and visits her, almost on a daily basis. Dr. Grene asks questions, he wants to find out why Roseanne was institutionalised in the first place, and whether there are reasons to ‘let her go’ now that the institution will be demolished and only much smaller and more confined ‘accommodation’ will become available.
Dr Grene himself is also getting older; he’s 65 now and is trying to cope with the death of his wife Bet, and their estrangement over the years prior to her death, with his sense of guilt. Dr Grene writes down his thoughts about Roseanne and what he is able to find out about her, tries to discover her secrets, but he is constantly sidetracked by his own story and so we get to know Dr Grene also, to a certain extent.
About growing old he writes:
There has never been a person in an old people’s house that hasn’t looked around dubiously at the other inhabitants. They are the old ones, they are the club that no one wants to join. But we are never old to ourselves. That is because at close of day the ship we sail in is the soul, not the body.
The Secret Scripture is a wonderful book, full of insights, and the story is riveting; it’s incredibly moving without ever a hint of sentimentality and you wonder how these things could happen to people, how one catholic priest could wield such an influence and because of that could so thoroughly ruin other people’s lives. We know that these things happened and Sebastian Barry makes it only too real. This is great writing, and his book is high up on my list of best books this year, as much for the style and skill with words as for the story it tells so well.
While Roseanne McNulty slowly uncovers her story, looking back on the very tragic course of events that lead to her incarceration in ‘the madhouse’, Dr Grene carries out his own investigation until he uncovers the shocking secret in Nazareth House in Blexhill in England.
(Gavin has just informed me of his review, here)
The Sunday Times Culture section today however has an interesting article by Bryan Appleyard on Ishiguro and his latest book, Nocturnes, which will be published shortly. I like these essays by BA – well worth a read if you have the time. I will definitely get hold of this book – I like Ishiguro’s writing.
However, my eye got caught by a non-fiction title ‘Voodoo histories: the role of the conspiracy theory in shaping modern history’ by David Aaronovitch and which is reviewed by Christopher Hart. Hart writes:
Voodo Histories is, however, much more than a prolonged sneer at human folly, ignoble fun though that always is. It is also a sensitive inquiry into why conspiracy theories appeal, and Aaronovitch’s theories are consistently reasonable, persuasive and humane.
I think conspiracy theories are fascinating: why do people offer sometimes really complicated theories on and accusations about for example, Diana’s death and Kennedy’s assassination? Lots of us greatly enjoyed the Da Vinci Code, which ultimately is no more than a conspiracy theory and as Hart notes, a pretty juvenile one at that. I might just try and get hold of a copy of this book – it’s finding the time to read it!
Meanwhile, I’ve started Siri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American (which is now out in paperback) and I will let you know how I get on with this. First pages are very promising!