Thoughts on Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture

(By Daire)

Work focuses on / inspired by his relations / ancestors and their relationship as unionists to the rest of Irish society post independence. Highly fictionalised.

‘The Secret Scriptures’:

James Tait Black Memorial Prize,

Book of the Year at the 2008 Costa Awards,

Irish Book Awards: “Novel of the Year” & Choice Award.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker, losing to The White Tiger

Story of elderly woman “sectioned” for unknown reasons possibly social rather than medical.

Told by the alternating writings of Rosanne and her long time psychiatrist, Dr. Green, at a Roscommon psychiatric hospital.


Man as an island. How little we know about each other. What are the bands of communication? How fragile are they?

Pythagoras/Beans => Ancestors interest of Barry’s. He says in interview that he had to wait ten years for Rosanne and Green to write the book through him. Did he eat them in beans? He say’s in interview that “their DNA wakes up” in him. Lovely.

Axe like beard / not all knives and axes. ???

As a doctor you are being examined and scrutinised just as much as you are examining and scrutinising.

“His long white beard was sharp as an iron axe. It was very hedgelike, saint like.”

Dr. Green answered my questions with his usual solemn face…

building like R and G=> at the end. Funnily, they need the surveyors to come tell tehm the state it’s in like a doctor checking BP.

Telling the story or writing it is central to both R&G but in a sense taking a story from someone is a violation. Both try to hide their writing. They are not public but private writings the second unintentionally. The wife withdraws her hurt by withdrawing her story her side of the converation. she

leaves much unsaid.

Green’s marrage destroyed by lack of a child. Here life destroyed by a child/preg.

Everyone hates the ending. Could G be R’s son?

The rats and the fire. Are they like the people hiding from the truth in the dark? The fire comes and forces them out into the light, but they go back to the dark when they can/

The community obviously drove her away now want her back

rheum : good word

Our history makes us delicate (Egyptian tomb) a touch of the truth can shatter us

pa 28: Our names? what are they? they are important to us. Are they integral to our story? The first line perhaps which we write so often. the part of our stroy we write over and over again the only oart many of us write. pa 47 “that unwritten narrative of herself” ,“The full name, no longer Will, just William, separate”

Pa 45: Doctors can be forgiven an awful lot because of the work they do with people. Or the work is forgiving. i.e. bends to the worker easily.

How little we know and what lengths we go to figure it out, to gleen nuggets of information to pry them from people.

Savagery of people and society. Scriptures are coppied in abbys (Book of kells) retreats from the world which is what the hospital is for both R&G and their writing. But the savage vikings are at the door.

pa46 Irishness, identity => writing /culture / accent (Me) R&WR is way of overcoming those missing cultural experiences.  Writers are an importand part of Irish cultural identity. Barry interested in his place as an Irish writer.

Pa 47 compares two people in bad marriage to two states (N&S or pro anti treaty)

Pride conceit covering up our ability to recognise

When this world here is demolished so many tiny histories will go with it.


Oliver Sachs interview

Oliver Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England into a family of physicians and scientists (his mother was a surgeon and his father a general practitioner). He earned his medical degree at Oxford University (Queen’s College), and did residencies and fellowship work at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco and at UCLA. Since 1965, he has lived in New York, where he is a practicing neurologist. In July of 2007, he was appointed Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and he was also designated the university’s first Columbia University Artist.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings

Stories of people, spending time with them, allowing their stories to come out of them, this allowing you to treat them.

The story of medicine/ history 19th century concept of progress that the whole world is moving inexorably forward. Is this still around is it significant? or just plesing, because we are human and like narrative. Why because it gives us an excellent way of learning.

Writing and medicine: pa 359

Writing on something can detract from it.

Suffering defines us….? pa 361 So is it only the misery that shapes our lives? Is the crucial truth  about a patient that is hidden from us the long interrupted suffering of their life? Is that why it is such a contradiction to go to a doctor and tell him of your pain? Why it is so difficult. Romanticising removes the truth as it removes the suffering.

Language as the apple of the tree of knowledge . Love this. And follow with the tower of Babel..


Nietzsche: 1844- 1900 19th c philosoper

God is dead etc. Concerned with the validity of truth.

Can remove man’s problems by deciding his mating and removing the mental problems of conscience brought about by morality by dispelling it with biological understanding of our animal urges etc????


One thought on “Thoughts on Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture

  1. You mentioned having trouble identifying a unifying “angle” for the extracts, and I would accept that they are connected in quite loose ways: obviously, psychiatry connects some of them; then, more broadly, the idea of dialogue connects others (& the opportunity to use an interview and a two-hander for the first time in our gathering was satisfying for me); but the constraints of a treatment model that is based on a one-to-one relationship, based on the communication between doctor and patient which you picked up on so well, was the common ground that yanked the texts together most for me. Nietzsche (who could pass up on the chance to include him in our reading list!) briefly mentions “a talent for conversation that can adapt to every individual”, and “the tact of a police agent or lawyer (!) in diving secrets of a soul”. Sounds like a lot of work! Valéry has Socrates saying to the doctor, whose urge is to leave and move on to the next patient (“Someone else is ill, another call”): “I know that as soon as you’re out of reach [Eryximachus], my pains will worsen”, and “I don’t know what would become of medicine and mortals if a physician were attached to each and every one of them, a physician who never left them night or day and who kept them under perpetual observation.” For Sacks, who has managed to turn his doctoring into a “human enterprise and an intellectual adventure”, his work involves “listening and attending to patients and thinking about them and … perhaps writing about them”. In his training, so he claims now, they “were encouraged to present a full narrative, which somehow brought the patient to life”. In so doing, though, the danger surely becomes that one might be consigning others (less interesting?) to death by not getting to them in time. And if not to death, then perhaps to a life of inappropriate treatment, as William and Irish “psychiatry” seems to have done with Roseanne. The feel-good factor in William’s admiration for Roseanne and his curiosity about her, hides a chronic neglect (“but I have never delved into her life”), and the idea of him having time for patients (“It’s my job to visit you” … “a sort of infinite medical patience”) is in this case part of the problem. Roseanne can say “I do not consider Dr Grene an evil man”, but in his passivity and lack of vision she might agree that he is very much part of the problem. “So often my patients seem to me like a crowd of ewes pouring down a hill towards the cliff edge.” … “For the first time I have noticed the effrontery of my profession. The come-around-the-back-of-the-house of it, oh yes, the deviousness.” … “the obvious cul-de-sac nature of psychiatry, the horrible depreciation in the states of those that linger here.”

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