Can you be in love with a book’s words and not be in love with the book? I say you can. I just finished Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scipture and am feeling schizophrenic about it. Loved the way Barry wove the words. But oh, the story. So sad.
Here it is in a nutshell. As a young woman, Roseanne Clear McNulty was one of the most beautiful girls in Sligo, Ireland. The story opens as she nears her hundredth birthday which she will spend, as she has the last seventy-some birthdays, as a resident of a mental hospital. She begins to record her life journey but hides the pages from Dr. Grene, her caregiver. Meanwhile, Grene has been tasked with assessing if ancient Roseanne can be released into society as the hospital has been slated for demolition.
As Dr. Grene researches her case he comes across a document written by a local priest that tells a different story of Roseanne’s life than what she has revealed to the reader through her hidden pages. From the book’s back cover: “As doctor and patient attempt to understand each other, they begin to uncover long-buried secrets about themselves.”
The book’s prose is achingly beautiful. The storyline, achingly sad. A little too sad. There was just a smidgeon of satisfaction in the conclusion. Still, you gotta love Barry’s style. New York Times reviewer Dinitia Smith said it best: “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 moon—well 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.”
A good friend of mine told me the other day that while she’s inside the pages of my newest release, “The Shape of Mercy.” I, the author, become invisble. It’s just her and the characters. “It’s like you’re not even there,” she told me. Wow. I could’ve done cartwheels. I’ve never had a compliment affect me like that one. I am invisble. At to least to Tina. Nice.
That’s what Barry’s writing is like for me. Fluid like water, transparent like water. Slips through your fingers. He’s not even there.
Great prose, beautiful words, harsh realities. A great read if you are happy enough already.