I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Out of Sight

Out of Sight

Helen Lahert
The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry, Faber, 320 pp, £12.99,ISBN: 978-0571215287 In his latest novel, The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry explores new territory, turning to questions of institutionalisation, sanity, madness, belonging and isolation. This choice of themes is apposite, in that last year Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Barry tells the story of Roseanne Clear, a young woman committed to a mental asylum for social rather than health reasons and discovered by relatives more than half a century later. Roseanne’s harrowing tale is one of destructive neglect, and in his novel we are reminded that there are no simple solutions for those in this situation; that undoing the wrong of unjustified institutionalisation is in itself insufficient for human happiness and realisation; that while the “bricks and mortar” of well-designed and accessible houses are essential, they will not provide the connectedness needed to maintain sanity or allow for independent living among those institutionalised for too long. The roof over our heads is important, but without children, parents, family, neighbours and the respect of the community, a house can be perhaps little more than an open prison. The story of The Secret Scripture links again with the McNulty family of Barry’s 1998 novel The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty and the main character, Roseanne, is a sister-in-law of Eneas. As in previous novels, Barry draws from the experience, characters and landscape of his own family background. In a recent radio interview with John Kelly, Barry linked the character of Roseanne with that of a great-aunt who had been committed to an asylum in the 1920s and was subsequently hardly ever mentioned in the family. When she was mentioned the comment was that “she was no good”. “Not that she was mad, but that she was no good.” Barry considered that the writing of the story might offer “some meagre recompense for the fate she suffered at my family’s hands”. The novel begins by introducing us to its two main characters, Roseanne McNulty, now nearly a hundred years old, who has spent the last sixty years of her life in Sligo and Roscommon mental hospitals, and Dr Grene, the chief psychiatrist. The doctor has been directed to assess “inmates” of Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital for relocation to a new purpose-built unit or “into the community”, as the decrepit hospital is due for demolition. Rosanne is frail, but…

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