Above all it is the surpassing quality of Mr. Barry's language that gives it its power. A woman is as "young and slight as a watercolor, a mere gesture of bones and features." Swans in a rainstorm are like "unsuccessful suicides." And the moonwell the moon is "prince of all outside," he writes. "Its light lay in a solemn glister on the windowpanes"…Mr. Barry has said that his novels and plays often begin as poems (he is a published poet), but his language never clots the flow of his story; it never gives off a whiff of labor and strain. It is like a song, with all the pulse of the Irish language, a song sung liltingly and plaintively from the top of Ben Bulben into the airy night.
The New York Times
Playwright Barry's touching novel turned plenty of heads upon its release, as an elderly mental patient documents her life and times in County Sligo, Ireland, while her doctor uncovers a remarkably different story of her existence. Wanda McCaddon's British dialect is no hindrance to her remarkable portrayal of protagonist Roseanne McNulty, as she leaps into character with a stunning, perfect Irish accent that captures every nuance of the West Coast dialect. McCaddon's performance is among the best of the year. Her believable portrayal is perfectly modulated and nuance-filled, creating a stunning listening experience. A Viking hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 31). (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Just as he (Barry) describes people stopping in the street to look at Roseanne, so I often found myself stopping to look at the sentences he gave her, wanting to pause and copy them down . . . When I reached the last page, I did feel that I had shared a profound experience . . .
Luminous and lyrical.
I'd nominate Sebastian Barry, the most exhilarating prose stylist in Irish fiction-which just about makes him, by definition, the best prose writer in the English language . . . Barry has shown a dazzling facility with poetry, drama and fiction-his works form a mosaic-like whole, though each stands on its own. He never uses a fancy word when a simple one will do; his characters speak a plain vocabulary, but in cadences tempered and honed into poetry . . . Sebastian Barry's achievement is unlike that of any other modern Western writer, a tapestry of interrelated works in different mediums woven from strands of his past and that of his country. The Secret Scripture fits seamlessly into a vision that seeks to restore with language that which has
been taken away by history.
As her 100th birthday nears, Roseanne McMulty documents the story of her difficult life in a manuscript she hides from the staff of the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. Author Barry (A Long Long Way) describes 1930s-40s Ireland in bold, vibrant language, while Wanda McCaddon (What Was She Thinking?) does a spectacular job voicing the characters, playing at turns an aging, haunted woman and a mourning male doctor. Among the year's best audio adaptations; highly recommended for all collections. [Audio clip available through www.blackstoneaudio.com; the Viking hc was longlisted for the 2008 Booker® Prize.-Ed.]
Stephen L. Hupp
A subtle study of psychology, religion, family and politics in Ireland. This is not, as the title might suggest, another Da Vinci Code clone. Barry (A Long Long Way, 2005, etc.) writes vigorously and passionately about his native land. The story is told antiphonally, alternating narratives between a secret journal (hidden beneath the floorboard) kept by Roseanne McNulty, a patient in a mental hospital, and the "Commonplace Book" of her psychiatrist Dr. Grene, who's dealing with serious issues of grief after the death of his wife. Roseanne has always been something of an outsider, her father a cemetery-keeper and rat-catcher but most importantly a Protestant in a land largely hostile to this religious orientation. Although Roseanne remembers a happy childhood, in which she was the proverbial apple of her father's eye, he becomes involved in the political and military entanglements of Irish political life. When Roseanne grows up, she becomes the wife of Tom McNulty, but through a series of misunderstandings-as well as through the machinations of the grim-faced and soul-destroying priest, Fr. Gaunt-she is as good as accused (though falsely) of adultery with the son of a political rebel. Out of malice toward Protestants as well as out of a misplaced moral absolutism, Fr. Gaunt has her marriage annulled-and, using nymphomania to explain her "condition," has her locked up in the asylum. Dr. Grene gets interested in her story as well as her history, and in tracking down her past he finds a secret that she has kept hidden for many years, a secret that affects them both and that intertwines their families. In a final assessment of Roseanne-after she's spent decades in the asylum-Dr. Grenedetermines that she is "blameless." She responds: "‘Blameless? I hardly think that is given to any mortal being.'" Indeed, blamelessness is a state no one achieves in this novel. Barry beautifully braids together the convoluted threads of his narrative.