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Publisher's Summary

Roseanne McNulty, once one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland, is now an elderly patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital. As her 100th year draws near, she decides to record the events of her life, hiding the manuscript beneath the floorboards.

Meanwhile, the hospital is preparing to close and is evaluating its patients to determine whether they can return to society. Dr. Grene, Roseanne's caretaker, takes a special interest in her case. In his research, 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.

©2008 Sebastian Barry (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Above all it is the surpassing quality of Mr. Barry's language that gives it its power....It is like a song, with all the pulse of the Irish language, a song sung liltingly and plaintively from the top of Ben Bulben into the airy night." ( New York Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Amanda
  • Phoenix, AZ, United States
  • 05-17-12

Haunting and Lovely

This beautiful little novel, so perfectly narrated by Wanda McCaddon, was a welcomed change from the ordinary. While the story of Roseanne McNulty’s life is unarguably tragic, much of her commentary contains hilarious quotes and observations that often had me breaking out in unexpected laughter.

It was difficult at times to accept how fatalistic the main character was, and how little she fought for herself throughout her life. Then again, I think that was the intent from the start; to study a life lived only within the lines others drew.

I’m removing one star for how far-fetched the storyline was, but I do so half-heartedly. The bottom line is that this story, and Roseanne’s voice (via Wanda McCaddon) has stayed with me, even as I move through other stories. It’s a rare book that does that; and when you find one, it deserves respect.

For those that can struggle with accents, be advised this narrator has a thick Irish brogue. Be sure to listen to the sample first, to make sure it works for you.

96 of 102 people found this review helpful

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  • Janice
  • Sugar Land, TX, United States
  • 05-21-12

Small story on a big stage

While this story is placed in a time of great turmoil among nations and within communities, this is a very small story of its time - almost the opposite of an epic during epic times. Ireland between the two World Wars had its own Civil War, agonizingly dealing with changes on the political scene, yet this story shows how the people were still dealing with the ancient morals and superstitions that had guided them for centuries. Perhaps because of the sociopolitial uncertainties, clinging to the familiar may have felt like the only safety afforded small vulnerable villages. Roseanne is one such vulnerable person, spending the vast majority of her adult life institutionalized in an asylum, the reason for which has been lost to time and missing records. As she writes her own memoirs for whomever may find them in the future, we see the tragic events that have lead her to where she is, helpless in the face of religious and legal forces wielded by a zealous priest and unsympathetic family. Parallel to her diary, we learn of a record written by that same priest telling her story, but with many differences. Who is right? Are either of them right?

This poignant story explores choices made, their motivations and interpretations, the reliability of memory and ultimately the relevance of memory once fate has taken a hand. The narrative focuses mainly on two characters: Roseanne and Dr. Grene, her psychiatrist who is trying to discover why she has been incarcerated for over 60 years. We meet through her writings and his research the supporting characters who have impacted her life since childhood, but Roseanne is the heart of her own story. 4 stars instead of 5 because I wished to understand some of these supporting characters better.

I think I might have had a harder time getting swept into this story without the beautiful reading by Wanda McCaddon. Her voice becomes Roseanne's, especially at age 100, and she also gives us a moving portrayal of Dr. Grene, trying to do the right thing after failing to see the humanity of this ancient lady entrusted to his care for so many years.

48 of 53 people found this review helpful

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  • Deborah
  • Chambersburg, PA, United States
  • 01-02-12


My thoughts on this one are mixed. I might have rated it higher, but the unrealistic conclusion--a bit of a deus ex machina--lowered my opinion. Barry creates a fascinating character (or should I say victim?) in Roseanne, a 100-year old woman who has spent most of her life in an asylum that is about to close. The story is told from two points of view: Roseanne's, mostly in the form of pages she has written and concealed; and Dr. Grene, who is in charge of assessing Roseanne for either release or transfer to another institution. The cruelty and prejudice of mid-20th century rural Ireland permeates the novel, and at times, the suffering of Roseanne is almost too harsh to believe. I was left to wonder whether and how one person (Mrs. McNulty, Roseanne's one-time mother-in-law) could have had such moral power over an entire town. Perhaps Barry was trying a little too hard to write a hand-wringingly tragic Irish novel, so it seems he decided to leave his readers with an impossibly happily ever after ending.

30 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Katie
  • Lolo, MT, United States
  • 09-20-11

A thoughtful listen

Initially, I found the narrator's pace to be too fast. Eventually either she slowed down or I grew accustomed to the pace. Once that was achieved, I was mesmerized by the story, the mystery, the suspense, and the prose. A well-written and beautifully narrated thought provoking novel... I would definitely recommend it.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

A perfect novel

Starting quietly and slowly, the story becomes mesmerizing as an exploration of two lives. The narrator masterfully conveys the voices of male and female, English and Irish characters.

41 of 47 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 07-26-09

Gripping Story, Beautifully Read

I got completely wrapped up in this cleverly plotted and moving novel. Barry is a superb writer. The language, pace, and intimacy of his writing is very satisfying. He draws out the emotional depths of the two main characters with great intelligence and compassion. And the reader is marvelous, beautifully switching the voices and and accents of the characters so you feel you are standing next to them.

22 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Glenda
  • Bolton, CT, USA
  • 12-25-08

Destined to be a classic!

A book meant to be listened to. The beautiful flow of story and language was enchanting. This is one of a handful of books that touched my heart.

16 of 18 people found this review helpful

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I felt like I was there

What made the experience of listening to The Secret Scripture the most enjoyable?

The narration was tremendous. Unlike some other listeners/readers, I loved the careful depiction of the small things because it put me directly into the story in a visceral way.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Secret Scripture?

I want to say all of them. Her description of her father shaving, the discussion of his downfall, the clandestine burial, Roseanne and Eneas, the conversations with Dr. Grene, and old Mrs. McNulty turning Roseanne away in the storm.

Have you listened to any of Wanda McCaddon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not, but I would certainly listen to her read anything. She could enliven the directions on a toothpaste tube!

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I had so many reactions. Some of it was disgust and shock, some of it was a sense of extreme tenderness. Sometimes what I felt was rage and disgust at how unkind people and institutions can be.

Any additional comments?

I bought this because I also purchased two of the Neopolitan Novels by Ferrante at the same time and the algorithm of Audible thought they were similar. The difference, for me, is that I could NOT finish the Ferrante books. The hardscrabble life depicted in those books was so mean, so unyielding and ugly that I couldn't get past a few hours. However Barry's writing and McCaddon's performance brought this story of very hard Irish country life to breathe in a way that was insightful and though describing lives that were tightly socially controlled (even unto manipulation), the story also contained so many moments of tangible sweetness and always always a sense of hope that I fell in love with this book and with Roseanne.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

I am not sure which audience this would appeal to. I thought at first that it was just a slow start. I kept listening thinking anytime now it will pick up reveal a reason or a purpose.. sadly it did not.

Would you ever listen to anything by Sebastian Barry again?

I am not sure.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator was wonderful

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Secret Scripture?

There was too much detail about unimportant things. Surroundings and such where there should have been more detail about the actual story. I found myself thinking frequently I had missed something.

Any additional comments?

This book was very frustrating. I feel like there was a good story there, but poorly told at times even confusing. The ending, well just like the book underwhelming..

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Terrific book

I thought this was a wonderful book. It was the perfect combination for me - literary fiction - beautifully written - and beautifully narrated. A very special read.

15 of 18 people found this review helpful