Book Review: Days Without End

Sebastian Barry There is not a word out of place in this harrowing and beautiful tale of love, war, duty and sacrifice. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry deservedly had award success in 2016/2017. I already knew Barry could write about war, having read and loved A Long Long Way set in the Great War. What is different about Days Without End is the relationship between Thomas McNulty and John Cole. Barry tells the epic story of the Indian and Civil wars in America, combined with a heart-stopping tale of love.

The story is the first person narrative of Thomas, an Irish émigré fleeing the Irish famine. He arrives in a young America with so many disparate groups, contrasted and never seeming to connect: men, women; officers, foot soldiers; gay, straight; white, black; American, Irish immigrant; army, native Indian; north, south. Barry does not shy from telling the reality of the American wars, the brutality, the atrocities of army against Indians and vice versa; but also the comradeship and solidity of men fighting alongside each other. There is betrayal on both sides, brutality on both sides, and soldiers hating and turning on each other. At the core of this though is the story of Thomas and John Cole, who meet as boys and perform a cross-dressing act on stage before signing up for the army. It is not all about war. There are three sections of ordinary life when we see the ordinary life of the two men, finding a role for themselves and fitting into society.

Much was written at the time this novel was published about how Barry dedicated this book to his son. The portrayal of the men’s relationship is gentle, fond and loving, but the single thing which struck me most was their absolute loyalty to each other.

Full of beautiful prose, plot twists and turns, savage cruelty and betrayal, poignant loyalty at the expense of self, it feels like a slow-moving story but I didn’t want to put it down. Highly recommended.

Winner of the 2016 Costa Book of the Year; Winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017; Winner of the Independent Bookshop Week Book Award 2017; Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017

Read how Barry started to write Days Without End, and here is my review of A Long Long Way.

If you like this, try:-
‘Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx
‘At the Edge of the Orchard’ by Tracy Chevalier
‘March’ by Geraldine Brooks

‘A Long Long Way’ by Sebastian Barry [UK: Faber]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
DAYS WITHOUT END by Sebastian Barry #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3oB via @SandraDanby