What redeemed it? According to Matthew Parris, chair of the final judges:
Sebastian Barry has created one of the great narrative voices in contemporary fiction in The Secret Scripture. It is a book of great brilliance, powerfully and beautifully written.The novel tells the story of Roseanne McNulty, a very old woman living in a mental institution and secretly writing her memoirs in an attempt to reclaim her past. Her narrative is interwoven with that of her psychiatrist, Dr Grene, whose:
...own sense of self becomes entangled with the fate of this mysterious old lady.The novel was earlier shortlisted for the Booker prize.
All literature is flawed, everything creative is by its nature flawed ...
says Lisa Jewell, one of the Costa judges, in The Telegraph, explaining that Barry's book :
... was, quite simply, magic.In the same paper, Robert Colville asks why the judges are so grudging in their praise, but seems to rather welcome their honesty!
Postscript 2 :
As James Delingpole so rightly points out in The Telegraph:
And their shining example of the novel that isn't flawed is what exactly? All novels are flawed, that's the whole point. Dickens goes on a bit as – my, and how! – does George Eliot; War and Peace ends with 100 pages of rambling, esoteric spiritual drivel; Proust badly needs pruning; Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer aren't great prose stylists. ... As a novelist it's the first – and most depressing – thing you learn about your trade: that between the sweeping ambition of your conception and the reality of your execution there will always be a terrifyingly large gulf. All novels, even the greatest ones, are failures. It's just that most readers are too polite to notice.