The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (thoughts)
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.)