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Society & Culture

Led by James Naughtie, a group of readers talk to acclaimed authors about their best-known novels


Sebastian Barry: The Secret Scripture

December 4th, 2011

Episode 328 of 438 episodes

December's Bookclub author is Sebastian Barry. Well known as a successful dramatist and novelist, his literary career became stellar when he won the 2008 Costa Book of the Year Award with this month's chosen book, The Secret Scripture; and he is considered one of Ireland's greatest living writers. The novel is told by Roseanne, who is uncertain of her age; she thinks she is now one hundred. She's been incarcerated in asylums in Ireland for over sixty years, and is writing the story of her life, on pieces of paper that she hides under the floor boards of her room. This is the Secret Scripture of the title; which comes from a poem by an Irish nationalist poet, Thomas Kettle, who fought for the British in World War I. As the book unfolds, we discover the why and the how of her incarceration. The second narrator of the novel is Roseanne's psychiatrist Dr William Grene, who must judge whether Roseanne can be released into society as the hospital is about to close. As he comes to know her, he becomes fascinated by her and the history - which is the history of twentieth century Ireland - that she represents. Sebastian Barry tells readers how he uses his own family in his fiction and how the character of Roseanne came from hearing about a great aunt who had been shunned by the rest of the family - the only thing known about her was her great beauty. His was a family beset with secrets, and his mother, Joan O'Hara (a famous actress of her day), was a "consummate un-coverer of secrets". January's Bookclub choice : 'The Beatles' by Hunter Davies. Producer : Dymphna Flynn.

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