The psychiatric hospital in Roscommon, Ireland is due to be shut down, and it is the task of Doctor William Grene to assess all the patients in order to see if they can be released back into the community, or if they will have to go to the new hospital when it is built. He becomes preoccupied with trying to uncover the history of a 100 year old patient, Roseanne McNulty, and with trying to determine the circumstances that led to her being put into the hospital in the first place. He is one of two narrators of the story, and in giving his account of events, he not only uncovers the secrets of Roseanne’s past, but also talks about difficulties in his own life and marriage.
Roseanne, who has spent over half of her life in the institution chronicles her life, from her childhood with her beloved father, and then the marriage which she believed would bring her happiness, despite the fact that she was a Presbyterian and married into a Catholic family, who were largely unwelcoming to her. As the book covers the 1920s and 1930s extensively, she talks about the troubles in Northern Ireland and the impact it had both on herself, the lives of the people around her and the country as a whole.
I’m not really sure what I thought of this book, and I don’t even know if I really enjoyed it or not. I was initially ambivalent towards both narrators, but while I warmed up to Roseanne and ended up feeling for her, I never felt able to like Doctor Grene. For a man who was entrusted with the care of others, he seemed far too wrapped up in his own worries and troubles, and often seemed to use 20 words when one would do. (Put another way, he was not nearly as interesting a character as he could have been.) Roseanne’s use of grammar also grated on me somewhat – her descriptions seemed clunky at times, which made reading it slightly laborious. I don’t think this was the fault of the author of the book, rather it was a trait of the character he created.
The story itself was interesting enough, but I felt that it could have been shortened and would have benefitted from some editing I had little interest in Doctor Grene’s marital woes and didn’t feel that they added anything to the book.
There was a twist at the end, which I did work out (but not too far before it was revealed), which I felt was just slightly too unbelievable, but nonetheless it did tie things up fairly neatly.
There have been many extremely favourable reviews of this book, and my opinion places me in the minority in that I found it slightly disappointing. I wouldn’t want to put anyone else off reading it, but it wasn’t one that I particularly enjoyed.