Monday, 7 October 2013

Book Review: The Secret Scripture

The Secret Scripture

By Sebastian Barry

This was the first of two books Zuzana has given me to read. I chose this one because i thought it would be a different style of book compared to the ones i'v been reading lately. Period, historical and a different language style. The synopsis also depicted that the book was focused on the issues on mental health, something of a mystery in itself! I was intrigued and eager to get my head stuck in. I also chose this book as it was shorter than the second and therefore thought i would fly through it! As you can see, this was not the case.

I will say two things about this book:
1) you should have a good and sound knowledge of Irish history before you start this book.
2) make sure you are in a place where you can concentrate and give yourself to the book, it demanded a lot of my attention to read correctly.

This book was written very well in parts. Once into the story, the language flows and works the story beautifully. It creates relationships with the characters and puts you right in the heart of Western Ireland countryside of the 1920's. I must say that despite my best efforts to give myself and my concentration to the novel, parts of it read very badly in places or did not make sense to me. Maybe this was the narrative or the structure of the language which tends to flow and follow Irish dialect? But there were definitely areas that i read and re-read yet still evaded understanding.

I must say this book was Very Irish. If i had known how intensely Irish it was i would never have started it. I am a woman newly scorned by an Irishman and therefore wanted to stay clear of relations! And at several points i did feel myself pulled back there. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach when Monaghan was mentioned.  But anyway!

I strongly recommend that, to truly appreciate and understand this story bitter-sweet story, you would need a good knowledge of Irish history.

Reading the book alone was a history lesson in itself. 

But again i say, that some of the time, i had not a clue what was going on. The rivalry and tensions between Northerners and the Republicans was strongly explored and presented with sometimes significant reality. The hatred between Catholics and protestants. And the politics surrounding the Irish Civil War and the War of Independence. Political figures are included such as Eamonn De Valera. For most of the first half of the book i thought this was a fictional character, only to be informed that he was the actual president of Ireland during this era. Characteristics such as this were present throughout the book. Small aspects that only the Irish themselves would see and understand simply because it is part of their culture and heritage. A piece of dialogue,for example, i had to spend 5 minutes on Google for was:

'There's things you can say with impunity in Dáil Éireann that'd get you thrun out of the Gaiety'

The book also revealed the oppression of women in those days. It highlighted the disgusting social structures that out-cast any non-conforming person. Women were cast-out and branded as sinners for any association with men after marriage. Even an innocent conversation with the wrong person. I am pleased this book did not omit or dust-over this issue. What happened to Roseanne was brutal, especially where Fr. Gaunt was concerned. Fr. gaunt was a cruel, vindicating, malicious and manipulating disgrace of a person who i personally detest (even though he is not real!). Ughhh! I would like to kick him in the face. With a baseball bat. At least twice. 
Another relevant and persisting issue of the '20's was the abuse suffered by children and the elderly. From priests  nuns, carers, in orphanages and otherwise. 

What about the story? Well.
The story was structured as written journal entries and split into two viewpoints, that of Roseanne and that of Dr William Grene. I liked this style of writing as it made you feel you were hearing the innermost and personal thoughts of the characters that they may not express to anyone else. It reached out to you like it was you they were writing for. I think the whole, 'shes writing a secret journal that no-one knows about and hides under the floor-boards' is abit corny and un-imaginative, but it works out well in the end.

Roseannes testimony of herself:
From the offset i was connected with Roaseanne. Her young years were beautifully written. Her relationship with her father was adorable and sincere. The imagery within the scenes together really cemented the relationship and set the foundations for scenes to follow. The traumatic events for her from the night she met John Lavelle was the beginning of where i started to get lost. The scenes portrayed the gruesome reality of that time in the War. The relationship with her mother after her fathers death was not explored, but was significant in itself  for exactly that. Her relationship with Tom was simple and heart-warming. They loved each other, simply and purely. Until the bastard Fr. Gaunt had to afflict his malicious 'concerns' in her business. 

The following chapters that saw her confined to her iron hut, the annulment of her marriage, the night with Eanes, brought out a range of emotions and had me feeling for Roseanne so strongly through these parts. This was brought to a peak when she was refused help from Mrs McNulty to then give birth in the most hostile of situations and environments and have her child stolen from her breast. What that must do to a woman i have no idea. I was pulled into this part of the book and believe it was the best for engaging all aspects of my attention and emotion. From there however, the story turns its main focus on to Dr. Grene and the investigations of the child. 

By the end of the book i thought there were several elements that were left un-answered. Did she witness her fathers death? What happened after Eanes took her from the asylum? Was that just a dream? If so how did she end up back in the asylum? Maybe i was just lost again and these bits bypassed by understanding. 

Dr. Grene's testimony:
William's story encompasses whole other aspects of life compared to Roseanne. His story is written much differently compared to Roseannes. Much more modern and concerning much less political issues.  William only really has to deal with the loss of his wife, questioning of himself and the revelation of his biological mother. The first and second aspects were well structured and written. The portrayal of his grief was endearing and touching. I felt for William, but have to say it was Roseamme who really had my full interest throughout

How they worked together:
Put together, their stories progressed well . They were written to reveal things in an order that complimented each others testimony and come together in the end to reveal the big-secret. I have to say, i did guess at the big-secret earlier on, so it didn't come as much of a surprise to me as may be intended. However the way the story continued from there was well thought through. 

The end of the book brought closure despite leaving the ending open. We do not know if he told Roseanne or what became of them as individuals  It may have been nice to have had an epilogue?  But this could also have made it really cheesy and spoil the whole book if not done well. Better to keep the reader guessing and let their own imaginations fill in the blanks.

Overall, i enjoyed reading The Secret Scripture. It was a pleasure to read (the bits that i understood anyway!) and had me connect with the main characters in a way all good books do. Despite the intense setting and underlying issues within the book, the author created a lovely story in a beautiful county. The imagery conveyed could entice and capture any imagination. 
I do feel that i would have to go and learn about these times more thoroughly in order to fully understand and appreciate this novel. The politics, the religious tensions, even Gaelic and Irish dialect.  For some of it, i was lost. 

But all-in-all. it was well-written and enjoyable read.

Quotes that i took a moment over:

"After all the world is indeed beautiful and if we were any other creature than man we might be continuously happy in it."

"And man who can make himself merry in the face of those coming disasters that assailed him, as disasters do so many, without grace or favour, is a true hero."

"There's some things you really cant get enough of. Chocolate you can get enough of. But some hings. I liked his company, in all guises of company. I liked drinking cips of tea with him. I really liked kissing his ears... I always felt the equal of him."

"The world is not full of betrayers, it is full of people with decent motives and a full desire to do right by those who know them and love them. "

"But fate it would seem is a perfect strategist and will work miracles of timing to assist our destruction."

"After all, when all is said and done, i am on my own now, and our story is over."

"What is the nature of history. Is it only memory in decent sentences, and if so, how reliable is it? I would suggest, not very. "

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