Roseanne McNulty is almost the last denizen of a soon-to-be demolished asylum. No one knows how old she is, and no one can remember why she was committed in the first place. She knows, however, and tells her story to a manuscript which she keeps hidden.
She remembers Sligo in her childhood and youth; her kindly Presbyterian father, a gravedigger; her Catholic neighbours, seemly but wary in their dealings with her family. Then comes the Irish Civil War, and the bloody cut drawn between friends in the cause of an Independent Ireland. Roseanne’s mother goes mad, and events in this novel spiral ever further into chaos and pain. Roseanne’s own – temporary – salvation comes in marriage to a jazz singer, who restores what love and order to he can to her life. The shades of malevolent obscurantism are still abroad, however, and so she finds herself where she is.
In the present, Dr Grene, a psychiatrist, has his own hidden text. He and Roseanne tell the story between them, in sweet, pellucid prose.