Monday, 23 September 2013

A book discovered

Am I a reader? Can I really call myself that?

I have been reading lots of other book blogs lately and thinking to myself , ‘Wow. These people really read. A LOT’. Now, I understand that a full time job and two year old twins doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading, but I have been feeling like someone who loves books rather than someone who loves reading books.

I collect books. When I hear about a book that sounds interesting I have to buy it there and then. The fact that I have probably hundreds of unread books in my house is not an issue for me, I buy more anyway.

But does this make me a reader?

In the past I had been very much against reading on a Kindle or an iPad, but now have both and find the experience of reading on them to be fine. Not as nice as a real book, but for convenience they are great. And of course, it is too easy to buy books for them, one click and it’s yours.

We went on holiday last week to a little cottage in the West of Ireland, and something happened to remind me that yes, I am a reader and that regardless of the convenience of an e-reader, sometimes nothing can replace the magic of an actual book.

Our little cottage was lovely, well equipped, homely and had a packed bookcase in the corner of the living room. After a good rummage and nestled between an autobiography of Peter Mandelson and Ireland’s Greatest Golf Courses I found a dog eared copy of The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. I don’t know what made me take it out and have a look, but I did and I was well rewarded.

I have read Sebastian Barry’s plays, but never his novels, but that is now all about to change courtesy of this beautiful, moving and heart-breaking book.

Roseanne McNulty, a forgotten centenarian, and long-time resident of the Roscommon regional mental hospital, is attempting to organise her memories, some reliable, others evasive, through the writing of a testimony of her life. Her account forms the main part of this compelling novel, in which Roseanne's chronicle interweaves with that of her psychiatrist, Dr Grene, who is preparing his patient for the move to a new institution and in the process decides to look into the events that brought Roseanne to the institution in the first place.

"No one has the monopoly on truth," says Roseanne. "Not even myself, and that is a vexing and worrying thought." This book is in some ways about the search for truth, as much as it can be found and about memory and loss, pain and love. The beautifully lyrcial prose flows along in what is an undeniably well plotted and constructed novel. Yes, there is a twist, if you can call it that, but once it comes, everything else in the book becomes clear, what seemed to be chance becomes fate and we read Roseanne’s story anew.  This novel is arranged and imagined with immense skill, so that it is never unbalanced by its twists and turns even when they appear fantastical.

There are images in this magnificent book that will stay with me for a long time. Burning rats, smashed clocks, long gone dance halls and a young girl’s destructive beauty. For me though, the hammers and feathers will always fall on Roseanne and bring her to her fate, for good or ill.

I urge you to read this book, it is both moving and heartbreaking, historical and life-affirming. And I came to it by chance. I brought an iPad on holiday, filled to choking with any kind of book I might want to read, yet it was a book, lifted and opened by chance, that captured my imagination and my heart.

And that is where modern technology just can’t compete.


  1. Funny, that book is on our bookshelves but I've never read it. Now you speak so highly of it, I must do so.

    I haven't yet succumbed to an iPad or Kindle, I must say I'm addicted to the feel of a real book in my hands.

  2. If you do read it Nick, let me know what you think!

  3. Isn't it wonderful to discover a book in that way? I've stumbled on many that way in holiday cottages. I suppose one day the cottage shelf will just have an old kindle on it - it won't be the same at all.

    1. It s rarely happens now? Bookshops are becoming more generic and I generally discover new reads through Amazon or Goodreads recommendations. Let's hope Irish cottages retain their bookshelf charm for a while longer!