Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Secret Scripture

I spent most of the day in a sort of dream-state, reading Sebastian Barry's new book, The Secret Scripture. It recently made the long-list for the 2008 Man-Booker Prize.

I have swooned similarly over each of Barry's three previous novels, and this new one is a sort of extension of The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, my personal favorite. In that earlier book, Eneas becomes a fugitive and a wanderer as a consequence of the Irish Troubles in the 1920s. The Secret Scripture follows his brothers and the other people he knew in Sligo, as they remain where they were born and do what they can to cope with the sorry fates dictated for them by Politics (or History).

Each of Barry's novels is seen through the eyes of one or two of the characters, and without fail he finds unique, convincing voices for their internal lives. Barry established a reputation as a playwright before the novels began to appear, and I suppose it is something successfully theatrical about them that makes me love these books. It is the sound of them, a sound at once natural and magical. Aside from conventional dialogue, most of the vocalizing takes place inside people's heads, or on the pages that they write.