Good Reading : December January 2009
author profile faith, memory, and a beautiful handshake A ‘beautiful’ handshake between his nationalist paternal grandfather and British major maternal grandfather gave SEBASTIAN BARRY something on which to rest his faith in Ireland’s future, as he tells ROSAMUND BURTON. W hen I speak to Sebastian Barry he is on his mobile phone at Canterbury Cathedral, where his new play, Dallas Sweetman, opens tomorrow. It is the first play to be performed in the nave of the cathedral for 80 years, he explains. In 1928 a drama by John Masefield was staged there, but every line was lost to the audience and disappeared up the tower due to the dreadful acoustics, so subsequent plays, including T S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, were performed in the Chapter House. ‘But now with modern technology we hope you can do a play in the nave,’ Sebastian explains. ‘It’s the most astounding place you can imagine. With regard to the history of Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland, what a place to stand.’ Sebastian Barry 16 goodreading i DECEMBER 2008 / JANUARY 2009 For this 53-year-old Dublin-born writer religious difference is an ongoing theme, and one that runs through the rich prose of his latest novel, The Secret Scripture, which was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize. The main character, Roseanne McNulty, is based on a great-aunt in Sebastian’s own family who he describes as ‘the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time’. Her religion, Presbyterian rather than Catholic, is totally unacceptable in her mother-in-law’s eyes and the reason, eventually, for her marriage to be annulled. Having a child ‘out of wedlock’ ostracises her further, and causes her to be removed from the community and put in the local mental asylum.