Saturday, 11 October 2008

My pick for the Booker - Sebastian Barry's lovely Secret Scripture. . .

I have my fingers crossed that Sebastian Barry will take the Man Booker prize on Tuesday. I just finished The Secret Scripture and the entire time I was reading it, I was in rapture and awe over the beauty of his writing. The novel alternates between two narratives - that of Roseanne, a 100 year old woman who has spent decades in a mental hospital, and her doctor, William Grene, grieving for the recent death of his wife and assigned to assess Roseanne's mental state as the hospital is closing and patients are being evaluated to see if they can be released. In doing so, he tries to dig up the original documents that chronicle Roseanne's story while his patient is herself writing her own autobiography and hiding the sheets under a loose floorboard in her room. As the novel progresses, the accounts of major events in Roseanne's life - the death of her beloved father, her secret marriage, the birth of an illegitimate child, and her initial incarceration in the asylum - differ in troubling ways. This is a novel that explores the equal challenges of constructing a human truth out of the fleeting imaginative strands of memory and the equally suspect rhetoric of possibly biased official documents. And it's about regret, betrayal and the incredible loneliness as a human condition that nevertheless has an inner self-sufficiency as its helpmate. The momentous events of Roseanne's personal life, which take place in the decades following the First World War, a period Dr. Grene calls, "the savage fairytale of life in Ireland in the twenties and thirties", is inevitably caught up in the political turmoil of that historical time. As such, this is a great follow-up to Barry's terrific WWI novel, A Long, Long Way which was also shortlisted for the Booker and darn well should have won. Hopefully Tuesday will be his day.

There's a great interview with him in The Guardian here. In it he talks about the painful secrets that reside in so many Irish families, the influence of his own family's stories on his work, and the forgotten women - such as Roseanne - who were shut away and never talked about again.

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