Synopses & Reviews
A gorgeous new novel from the author of the Man Booker finalist A Long Long Way
As a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, as her hundredth year draws near, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and she decides to record the events of her life.
As Roseanne revisits her past, hiding the manuscript beneath the floorboards in her bedroom, she learns that Roscommon Hospital will be closed in a few months and that her caregiver, Dr. Grene, has been asked to evaluate the patients and decide if they can return to society. Roseanne is of particular interest to Dr. Grene, and as he researches her case he discovers a document written by a local priest that tells a very different story of Roseanneas 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, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on individual lives for much of the twentieth century.
" [Barry writes] in language of surpassing beauty. . . . 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."
-Dinitia Smith, The New York Times
" Barry recounts all this in prose of often startling beauty. Just as he describes people stopping in the street to look at Roseanne, so I often found myself stopping to look at the sentences he gave her, wanting to pause and copy them down."
-Margot Livesey, The Boston Globe
"Luminous and lyrical."
-O, The Oprah Magazine
“Sebastian Barry’s achievement, enhanced by his latest novel, On Canaan’s Side, may be too great to be defined by the Booker or any other literary prize. Barry, the greatest prose writer in Irish letters—which by definition makes him the greatest writer of prose in the English language…No other novelist now writing can convey as Barry does the way in which unrighted wrongs continue to reverberate down through the ages, creating new versions of old tragedies for people with no knowledge of their origins…On Canaan’s Side fits seamlessly into Barry’s unique and expanding vision, seeking to restore with language that which has been taken away by time. Its real subject isn’t politics or even history but memory, a memory which reveals that ‘a measure of tragedy is stitched into everything if you follow the thread long through.’”
“Somewhere on the second page of this book, your heart will break, and you will devour every glimmering image and poetic line as if the sheer act of reading might alter the course of Lilly Bere's haunting tale. A story of love and loss, as Irish as the white heather and as big-hearted as America itself.” —Helen Simonson, author of the New York Times bestselling Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
“Richly detailed, often cinematic…This is no self-indulgent apologia, and Irish writer Sebastian Barry makes the fine distinction between sentiment and sentimentality with a deft hand...With all the quiet interiority and the equanimity with which events are recalled here, it’s easy to overlook how exciting those events were. The “plot” is full of surprises – many shocking. War, single parenthood, betrayal, unexpected acts of compassion, death too early – or in at least one case, too late – and race relations are all threads in the tapestry of Lilly’s life. Accommodations must be made at every turn and Lilly makes them, all the while maintaining her own moral poise. Deservedly short-listed twice previously for the Man Booker Prize, Barry in his current offering maintains, and at times exceeds, the high level of finely wrought empathy attained in those award nominees…And as in those two novels, the play of history as it most intimately affects individual lives in such an infinite variety of ways is on exquisitely touching display.”
“Sebastian Barry, one of Ireland’s most successful playwrights and novelists, is at his best when he is writing about those who find themselves marginalized in the new Ireland as it emerges from under the yoke of British. And in his new book, On Canaan’s Side, we once again find him dealing with characters whose lives are swept up in the changing tide of Ireland’s independence…As always with Barry, the language is beautiful. I had to slow myself down to savor the way he puts words together, for he is a master craftsman.”
“Lilly Bere is exceptional. She frees herself from one homeland and takes root in another. Her story is as American as it is Irish…elegiac…this Dubliner’s portrayal of our city feels organic. From the East Ohio Gas explosion to a run-in with racism at Luna Park, he weaves a rich, authentic backdrop. His prose is roundabout and tender…It’s a testament to the power of Barry’s quietly elegant prose that her immigrant story seems so tragic and so real.”
“Sebastian Barry is a significant Irish writer and his new novel, set mainly in the United States, is a wonderful introduction to his work…The plot is beautifully crafted. Lilly’s wanderings…make the story seem episodic, but Barry knows exactly what he’s doing; the latter part of the novel has several convincing surprises.”
“[A] compact but leisurely told narrative rich in mood and depth… On Canaan’s Side’s climactic pages glow with wonder and terror. They reach a catharsis of prose poetry as they mingle dramatically.”
“Tripping, liquid prose that adroitly evokes everything from the smell of an Irish countryside to the heaviness of grief.”
“On Canaan's Side is written with vast sympathy and tenderness. Sebastian Barry's handling of voice and cadence is masterly. His fictional universe is filled with life, quiet truth and exquisite intimacy; it is also fully alert to the power and irony of history. In evoking Lilly Bere, he has created a most memorable character.”—Colm Tóibín, author of the Costa Novel Award winning Brooklyn
“A marvel of empathy and tact.” —Joseph O’Neill, author of the PEN / Faulkner Award winning novel Netherland
“Barry takes quiet lives, in this instance Lilly Bere’s, adds the backdrop of political turmoil in Ireland after WWI, couples it with the expanse of 21st-century America, and ends up with a story that is both epic and intimate…this masterful storyteller takes[s] your breath away, after taking your hand and walking you through these lives, creating attachment and empathy for his characters yet leaving you with joy; appreciating light from the dark. You are safe and satisfied and enriched by his writing.”
Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, "The Secret Scripture" is an epic story of love, betrayal, and unavoidable tragedy, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on individual lives for much of the 20th century.
An epic story of family, love, and unavoidable tragedy from the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist
Sebastian Barry 's novels have been hugely admired by readers and critics, and in 2005 his novel A Long Long Way was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. In The Secret Scripture, Barry revisits County Sligo, Ireland, the setting for his previous three books, to tell the unforgettable story of Roseanne McNulty. Once one of the most beguiling women in Sligo, she is now a resident of Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital and nearing her hundredth year. Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, The Secret Scripture is an engrossing tale of one woman's life, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic church had on individuals throughout much of the twentieth century.
Soon to be a film starring Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a mesmerizing new novel from the award-winning author of The Secret ScriptureA first-person narrative of Lilly Bere’s life, On Canaan’s Side opens as the eighty-five-year-old Irish émigré mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. Lilly, the daughter of a Dublin policeman, revisits her eventful past, going back to the moment she was forced to flee Ireland at the end of the First World War. She continues her tale in America, where—far from her family—she first tastes the sweetness of love and the bitterness of betrayal.
Spanning nearly seven decades, Sebastian Barry’s extraordinary fifth novel explores memory, war, family ties, love, and loss, distilling the complexity and beauty of life into his haunting prose.
About the Author
Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His plays include Boss Grady's Boys (1988), The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998), The Pride of Parnell Street (2007), and Dallas Sweetman (2008). Among his novels are The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), Annie Dunne (2002) and A Long Long Way (2005), the latter shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. His poetry includes The Water-Colourist (1982), Fanny Hawke Goes to the Mainland Forever (1989) and The Pinkening Boy (2005). His awards include the Irish-America Fund Literary Award, The Christopher Ewart-Biggs Prize, the London Critics Circle Award, The Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, and Costa Awards for Best Novel and Book of the Year. He lives in Wicklow with his wife Ali, and three children, Merlin, Coral, and Tobias.