By Sebastian Barry
304 pages. Viking.
"The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune," begins Roseanne McNulty, long-term patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital and ancient protagonist of Sebastian Barry's luminous and lyrical novel, The Secret Scripture (Viking). "I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves." It is in this spirit that Roseanne gathers the courage to write the story of her astonishing life, hiding the pages beneath the floorboards, keeping the manuscript secret even from Dr. Grene, her trusted psychiatrist, who, ashamed of his professional failures, tries simply to be "a responsible witness to the miracle of an ordinary soul." Once the most beautiful young woman in County Sligo, Ireland, Roseanne lost her father, then her new marriage, and eventually her mental balance to the manipulations of a misogynist priest, an overbearing church, and a deeply troubled country. But she perseveres, past her hundredth birthday and into a rare and entirely earned place of wisdom where mercy can be greater than judgment, where we "measure the importance of our days by those few angels we spy among us," and where the "gift of life is something immense...something difficult but oddly bright."