Student notes on extract from Sebastian Barry’s ‘The Secret Scripture’

(by montgodc)

This is a very fascinating novel which for me explores two key themes. The first theme explored is introduced to us very early on in the very first paragraph of the chapter. It is this idea of Mr Grenes where he relates the condition of the building to that of the patients it contains.

“As if the very head and crown of the institution were mirroring the condition of many of the poor inmates beneath.”

Barry uses very vivid imagery to allow us to depict in our minds a very large unwelcoming building. Dr Grene does not resist the idea of a new building but he is not welcome to it. He feels that the building has almost become the heart of this mental asylum, both patients and workers alike have become a part of this building through the history shared in it. It is interesting however in the way in which he portrays this idea in relation to patients and workers, he imagines that the patients have become part of the actual solid construction of the building.

“How can we prise many of the patients out of here, when their very DNA has probably melded with the mortar of the building?”

Yet when he talks about the workers they appear to be more of the inhabitants in the building not the building itself

“Similarly the attendants and nurses have become as much part of the building as the bats in the roof and rats in the cellars.”

For me one of the most powerful parts of the story is when the hospital is referred to as the ‘lost ground of Roscommon’ this really sums up the stories of the people inside, despite the knew plan of reassessing the patients and releasing those who are found to have been held for unjust reasons the overwhelming feeling is that society had forgotten about them and by society demanding there release now it is too late for them, they are to old they have been interned for too long.

“I am not so great a fool as to think that all the ‘lunatics’ in here are mad, or evere were, or were before they came here and learned a sort of viral madness”

The introduction of Mrs Mcnulty brings into the story a character who we are told is very old, yet it is her realism that propels the story forward. She does not come across as a person who should be in a mental hospital and this helps us to then accept when her history is brought into question. For me she is a person who has just grown to accept her position and what she has.

“There will always be mice”

When she says the beauty of Dr Grene is that he is entirely humourless you are left wondering does she feel this because it allows her to read him more easily and know exactly where she stands or is it because after over 50 years in the asylum she has lost her ability to enjoy humour and so Dr Grenes lack of humour she finds refreshing and easier to deal with.

On a whole I really enjoyed reading this book it out of all the books we have read so far this one is the one I have most wanted to carry on reading and to see how it turns out. The story was well written building up an excellent basis for the story and out lining to very different yet both fascinating characters while not revealing to much committing the reader to wanting to read more.


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