Published by Faber and Faber on May 1st 2008
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Rose McNultry is almost 100 years old. For most of her life she has been a patient in Roscommon Mental hospital in rural west Ireland. This “mad” woman w lived most of her life. The hospital is going to be shut down and she is facing a scary future of being moved from where she has lived most of her life. She has frequent talks with her therapist/psychiatrist in the weeks leading up to the hospital’s closure. Her therapists job is to determine what to do with the patients left behind. He needs to determine who is of sound mind but institutionalized against their will and who is mentally ill. This also bears to question..if you are sane when you are institutionalized..will this prolonged treatment render you insane?
Rose has been keeping a journal of her life which she keeps hidden under the floorboards of her room. She only takes her journals out when it is safe. It is through her journal entries that we learn about her past. Her relationship with her parents – she had a loving father and a mother who distances herself from her daughter.
Rose falls in love with a young Man who has a domineering Mother who does not approve of her Catholic son being with a Presbyterian young woman. Father Gaunt makes sure that Rose does not marry the young man she is in love with. The priests misogyny, mistrust and dislike for women is Roes’s downfall. Ireland’s history comes into play as does the Catholic church who “puts away” those are different, who are sexual or deemed “loose”. A priests word is law back then and troublemakers are removed from society. As a result tragedy, cruel treatment and prejudice ensues.
I enjoyed how the story went back and forth telling Rose’s story then and her story now. For some reason, the jumping back and forth between decades made Roses’s story more sad – more poignant. I could feel her loneliness and pain. I, unlike Rose, would have been mad as hell at having been locked up all of those years. I would have raged and fought. She chose the path of forgiveness. She is a survivor. There is something quite beautiful in her ability to sit with her loss and loneliness and forgive those who have wronged her.
This book is beautifully written. It’s a big book with a lot of heart. It has a very poetic and Gothic feel to it. For some reason, while reading this book, I thought of other Gothic books such as Jane Eyre. These books are not the same and do not have similar story lines but they do both have a lot of atmosphere and have the same type of dreary feel to them.