Book Title: 

The Secret Scripture is told by two narrators, with each in the first person. How does this affect your relationship with Roseanne McNulty and Dr Grene? Do you think the novel would have worked as well if told in the third person?

• At least one of The Secret Scripture’s narrators has the potential to be an ‘unreliable narrator’. In interview, Sebastian Barry has said that 'the true unreliability of everything written down utterly fascinates me’. How does this affect your reading of the novel?

• We never have Roseanne or Dr Grene described to us, as we are reading from their point of view. How does Sebastian Barry create a sense of them without being able to tell the reader about them directly?

• Which of the characters do you think is better drawn? Do you feel closer to Roseanne or Dr Grene? And do you think that this is because of their story or because of how they tell their story?

• The use of the diary or memoir is a traditional format for storytellers. Can you think of other novels where this has been used? How has Sebastian Barry kept this technique fresh for modern day readers? Does the story feel vibrant to you, particularly the historical sections?

• Roseanne could be seen as a personification of Ireland, given the way that her history has spanned Ireland in the 20th century. Do you think that this is deliberate on Sebastian Barry’s part? If so, what do you think he is saying about modern-day Ireland?

The Secret Scripture dovetails with Barry’s previous novel The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998). Have you read this book? If so, did it affect your perspective of the story compared to others in the group who may not have done? If you have not read the book, do you think you are likely to go back to it now?

• The novel explores the idea of writing your experiences down being able to help you to make sense of the past. Have you ever kept a diary? If so, did you find it therapeutic? If you have not kept one, would this novel motivate you to record your experiences?

• The dramatic plot twist at the end of the novel has divided both critics and prize judges. What did you think of it? Did you find it too melodramatic, or did you think it tied up the loose ends of the story in a satisfactory way?

• Sebastian Barry’s writing style is extremely poetic, and he makes great use of colourful metaphors and similes. Did you find this realistic coming from a voice such as Roseanne’s? Were there any descriptions in particular that you found particularly effective, or moving?

• There is frequent use of religious imagery in the novel, for example ‘slaughtered lambs’ and ‘immaculate tears’. How does this affect the impact that these scenes have?

• Roseanne is a woman almost destroyed by the politics and misogyny of Ireland during her lifetime. Do you think that Sebastian Barry is passing comment on that era, or merely trying to create vivid characters and a compelling story?

• Sebastian Barry is known as a chronicler of Ireland’s history. He has said that he is ‘trying to rescue my characters from the cold hand of history and from the silences that surround certain turbulent periods in our own history.' Do you think he has done this successfully with The Secret Scripture?

The Steward of Christendom and The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty are both about the dislocations (physical and otherwise) of loyalist Irish people during the political upheavals of the early 20th century. How do you think that The Secret Scripture continues this theme?

Reading Guide Publisher: 
Viking