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The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (thoughts)

August 1, 2012


I’m sadly under-read when it comes to Irish literature. Back in May I stumbled across a wonderful blog, Ill Seen Ill Said, written by an Irish woman who is now also Canadian (and lives in Toronto). She has a great love for her native writers, and that inspired me to try out The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry.

I started it not really knowing anything about it, so imagine my delight to discover it was all about the stories we tell each other and ourselves, with a hint of unreliable narrative to spice things up. I adored both of the main characters, the centenarian Roseanne who has been institutionalised for decades and her sixty-something psychiatrist now tasked with determining her actual mental status, I found the themes and Irish history explored fascinating, and the complicated plot certainly kept me on my toes. But the real star of The Secret Scripture is Barry’s writing: lyrical, moving, and perfectly balanced, it was simply delicious. I wanted to just curl up in his prose and stay there forever. Not to mention, when the narrators change, I could instantly tell simply from the writing shift (I’ve mentioned before one of my biggest frustrations with novels using multiple narrators is when they all have the same tone). I know that’s difficult to achieve, and I applaud Barry for making it look so easy.

In other words, I now have a new author whose backlist I want to devour! Not to mention, I’m now even more inspired to dive into the world of Irish lit. I’m especially hopeful of finding a few Irish women authors to fall in love with; I remember a couple of years ago my wonderful readers gave me lots of suggestions. It’s about time I followed up!

P.S.: Thank you to everyone who took the time to recommend some books on yesterday’s post. I’m thrilled to have a resource in case the dreaded slump re-emerges! And on an administrative note, if you share my love for reading internationally, you might be interested in my newest review directory: it’s sorted by author nationality (I didn’t include US/UK ones). It’s not a complete list of all the international books I’ve read over the past years, because I only included titles I’d blogged about, but it’s still got about three hundred titles to inspire you.

Suggested Companion Reads

  • No One Will See Me Cry by Cristina Rivera-Garza (Another stunning literary novel focused around a mental institution that weaves together the character’s personal history with their country’s history, in this case Mexico during its revolution.)
  • The Listener by Shira Nayman (I haven’t blogged this yet, just read it a couple months ago, but it was a fascinating novel set in a mental institution with lots of unreliable narrators. More gothic than the Barry, and as a debut novel not so sure of itself, but still an interesting companion.)
  • A Bed in Heaven by Tessa de Loo (A brief novella, gorgeously written, about coming to terms with guilt during a complicated time in history, in this case WWII.)
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (I fear I’m going to sound repetitive, but this is yet another powerful literary work about characters having to find their own life stories.)
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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2012 6:37 am

    Both The Secret Scripture and The Listener sound incredible! I’ve added both to my wish list.

  2. August 1, 2012 2:22 pm

    I’m not sure if she’s on your radar already or not, but I greatly admire Tana French’s mystery/thrillers with heavy Irish cultural settings. She has a brand-new one out which I have yet to read, but my favorite of the first three is actually her first, The Likeness. This one sounds lovely; thanks for the tip!

  3. August 1, 2012 6:00 pm

    Thanks for the link to the new directory. I need some more international recommendations! The Secret Scripturesounds good, too.

  4. August 2, 2012 6:50 am

    You’re back! I just now noticed. I’m very happy to see you again!

  5. August 7, 2012 6:36 pm

    I’d be pleased to read more Irish literature if it didn’t always seem so terribly terribly depressing. So I will be interested to see more of your Irish reading! I have always neglected the literature of my forebears.

  6. August 8, 2012 3:05 am

    Great review Eva! I really enjoyed The Secret Scripture, though I did find the ending a little too easy if that makes sense?

  7. December 3, 2012 5:43 am

    I recently read Secret Scriptures and was also very taken in by the beauty of the prose. I learned a lot of Irish history from this book.

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