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This book is about the life of Roseanne, an old lady who has been incarcerated in a mental institution for much of her life and who is now determined to record this life in the form of a secret journal. Her psychiatrist, Dr Grene, is keen to find out more about her, mostly because the hospital where she lives is due to close and he needs to assess whether she can return to society or should be housed elsewhere, and he does this from speaking to her and from old records kept about her particularly the account of a Father Gaunt who was the man who had Roseanne committed. Dr Grene writes in his own journal about Roseanne, and also about his struggles to come to terms with his wife’s death and their relationship. Roseanne’s life has been full of unhappiness and betrayals and the reader gradually learns about these and the reasons for her being committed to a mental institution, and all this is interwoven with important events in Irish history. However, many of Roseanne’s memories and the findings of Dr Grene differ greatly and the reader is left wondering which account is the correct one.

I like the fact of this being in journal entries as I love the personal touch of reading someone’s journal and the access you have to their thoughts.

It feels very much like a book of contrasts as the doctor and Roseanne seem to be very similar but very different; he is writing about losing his wife and his worries about their relationship before he lost her, at the same time Roseanne is writing about her relationships; he makes it obvious that he and his wife couldn’t have children and remembers his wife doesn’t want to be where children are, and Roseanne remarks on her remembrances on Strandhill Beach where she sees children everywhere, she also seems to have borne a child but then ended up being childless and this causes her as much pain as the doctor’s wife; and there are even small similarities such as both the doctor’s wife and Roseanne like and tend for their roses.

The book is tantalising as it keeps giving hints on why Roseanne was sectioned, both in Roseanne’s remembrances and in the documents the doctor discovers, but the whole details are never revealed to the reader all at once.

I found it very intriguing that the doctor’s and Roseanne’s telling of her early life don’t tally, eg, the doctor read that Roseanne’s father was a policeman whereas she talks of him as a gravedigger and a rat-catcher and is upset when the doctor refers to him as a policeman, and the circumstances behind her father’s death differ wildly. I found myself spending a lot of time pondering which one was the correct account and for what reason there could be an incorrect one. It also occurred to me that if Roseanne’s account was the incorrect one then how much can the reader believe of the rest of her account, which is the larger part of the book, and if her account is incorrect is this due to her forgetfulness and vagueness or by her deliberately misleading the reader and perhaps also herself? However, the doctor’s account is by Father Gaunt who is the man who caused Roseanne to be committed and seemed to want to destroy her and who seemed malicious and able to abuse his huge power, so would his motives and therefore account be impartial and accurate?

I did feel a sense of foreboding throughout reading the book as it is obvious that unpleasant things have happened to Roseanne, and I felt almost anxious each time I turned a page as to whether these were about to be revealed. I was also very surprised at the twist at the end of the book as I didn’t guess this.

A couple of other points that struck me about the book was that it made me realise that I don’t really know much about Irish history and so I felt that the parts of the book relating to this rather went over my head, and I was also intrigued to see another of the author’s books is The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty as Eneas is quite an important character in The Secret Scripture, so I would be interested to read this book also.

I found this a very readable book and quite a clever one. I thought it was similar to The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox as it deals with similar subjects and I had read both books quite close in time to one another. However, I think I prefer the Esme Lennox book.