As a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, as her hundredth year draws near, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and she decides to record the events of her life.
As Roseanne revisits her past, hiding the manuscript beneath the floorboards in her bedroom, she learns that Roscommon Hospital will be closed in a few months and that her caregiver, Dr. Grene, has been asked to evaluate the patients and decide if they can return to society. Roseanne is of particular interest to Dr. Grene, and as he researches her case he discovers a document written by a local priest that tells a very different story of Roseanne’s life than what she recalls. As doctor and patient attempt to understand each other, they begin to uncover long-buried secrets about themselves.
Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, The Secret Scripture is an epic story of love, betrayal, and unavoidable tragedy, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on individual lives for much of the twentieth century.
Shortlisted for the 2008 Man Book Prize. Read this excerpt for a taste of Roseanne McNulty's secret scripture...
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When I was ten or so my father in a fit of educating enthusiasm brought me to the top of the long thin tower in the graveyard. It was one of those beautiful, lofty slim buildings made by monks in a time of danger and destruction. It stood in a nettled corner of the graveyard and was not much remarked on. When you had grown up in Sligo it was just there. But no doubt it was a treasure beyond compare, put up with only a murmur of mortar between the stones, each one remembering the curve of the tower, each one set in with perfect success by ancient masons. Of course it was a Catholic yard. My father had not got that job because of his religion, but because he was deeply liked in the town by all and sundry, and the Catholics did not mind their graves being dug by a Presbyterian, if it was a likeable one. Because in those days there was often much greater ease between the churches than we give credit for, and it is often forgotten that under the old penal laws in vanished days the dissenting churches were just as harried, as he often liked to point out. At any rate, there is seldom a difficulty with religion where there is friendship. And it was only later that this distinction in him made any difference. At any rate I know he was exceedingly liked by the parish priest, a little perky darting man called Father Gaunt who loomed so large later in my own story, if a small man can be said to loom large.
Those were the days just after the first war, and maybe in those ditches of history as it were, minds turn to strangenesses, quirks of education such as he was bent on that day with me. Otherwise I cannot explain why a grown man would take his child to the top of an old tower with a bag of hammers and feathers.