... by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.
The mental hospital where psychiatrist Dr Grene works is about to be shut down, and he sets about investigating the history of his patient Roseanne. She was committed there as a young woman and now - her records long lost - is nearing her hundredth birthday. At the same time, Roseanne is looking back on the tragedies and passions of her life through a secret journal: her turbulent childhood in rural 1930s Ireland, and the subsequent marriage which she believed would finally bring her happiness. When Dr Grene finally uncovers the circumstances of her arrival at the hospital, it leads to a secret that will shock them both.
...... From the outer back cover.
FIRST SENTENCE: The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: They are the old ones, they are the club that no one wants to join. But we are never old to ourselves. That is because at close of day the ship we sail in is the soul, not the body.
What can I say? Beautifully written BUT a lot of the time this felt a bit like sitting on an elderly relatives knee, wishing that they would get on with the telling of the story so that you could go and play. And as for the ending? Cliched, predictable and highly unlikely, it may have come as a shock to both Roseanne and Dr Grene but for me it came as no big surprise.
All about morality, religious differences, intolerance and memories (both real and possibly perceived) The Secret Scripture (Costa Book Award winner 2008 and Man Booker Prize shortlisted) is quite interesting in places, the story giving a wonderful, if scary, insight as to life in 1930's rural Ireland with the power of the Catholic Priest being nothing short of terrifying.
Set in a psychiatric hospital constructed in the 18th century 'as a charitable institution for the healthful asylum and superior correction seats of wounded seats of thought', Roscommon is now a dilapidated building,many of it's inmates patients about to be moved to other, smaller facilities or back into the community, I personally think this would have made a much more interesting book if the author had explored both Roseanne's early experiences in the hospital as well as the issues surrounding the closure of the hospital, the only home Roseanne has known for the last 75 or so years.
But what of the characters?
Hmm, at times realistic and quite believable, I think they were let down by a plot that was not all it could have been and an ending that quite frankly seemed, to me at least, the easy option, the lazy way out.
Roseanne I liked. Dealt a hard hand by life, her story was realistic and sadly we know there were people just like her admitted to such institutions at that time. However, some of her actions as an elderly woman, supposedly riddled with arthritis, lent inaccuracies to the story and, to a certain degree, made her less believable.
Dr Grene I did not think believable. Unprofessional, I just could not believe some of his actions, and, yet at the same time, there was just something about him (perhaps his recognisable grief or his all too flawed character) that made him likable unlike the previously mentioned Father Gaunt, a stereotypical 1930's Irish priest, who, though evil is too strong a word, is a man of no compassion or humanity whatsoever.
A reading group read, The Secret Scripture was the second book read in my 100+ reading challenge.