Archive of January 2010

Sat 16 Jan

The Secret Scriptures

One could be forgiven for thinking that this book might fall into the Dan Brown/Da Vinci code "genre" to go by the title, but you'd be wrong.  There is a narrative device of two journals which alternate and one of these is necessarily hidden away and secret.  Perhaps secret is the wrong word, but there is a big "secret" which is only revealed towards the end of the book.  It is hard for me to talk about plot specifics without revealing this secret without "spoiling" the plot.

I was really quite taken with the way this book covers the sweep of an entire century, yet does so in a very engaging way by literally covering the life story of a woman from the last century to this.  All this in the context of Ireland.  There always seem to be questions I am left asking myself after reading a book, and I think the more of them I have usually is a pretty reliable indicator as to how good the book is or at least how much it engaged me.

For this book one question was if Sebastian Barry were Irish and another was whether he started the book with the ending in mind and some sort of plot outline.  For the former a quick google has revealed that he was Dublin born and is indeed Irish, as I expected since the book is immersed in Irish culture and history which was one of the reasons I so enjoyed it.  This also enabled me to learn a lot of history and background both of the troubles and of the recent revelations of abuse cases endemic in Ireland and a few other island nations (such as the island of Jersey where a residential childrens' facility apparently had many many historic abuse cases).

As to where he started his planning of the book - well Google is less revealing of course and we can likely only speculate.

But this does lead me to the last thing I am curious about, which is how many readers are surprised by the final "twist" to the plot.  As the interleaving narratives progress we are left wondering if they will overlap in any other way than their perspectives on Roseanne's life (it is told in the first person from the beginning and in third person from the end).  The third person is not the narrator per se, but another character in the book.  I found this plot device immensely satisfying and it gave Mr Barry a lot of opportunity to show what a fine writer he is.

To conclude - thoroughly recommended!  And please please do leave a comment to let me know if you were totally surprised as you finished the book or if you, like me, had intimations as to what was to be revealed before it was!