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#Bookreview DAYS WITHOUT END by Sebastian Barry (@FaberBooks) A Western, a Civil War novel, and a love story whose narrator you won’t forget. #historicalfiction #Iamreading

Hi all:

Those of you who follow my blog will know I had been trying to catch up on some of the books that had made initially the long-list and later the short-list of the Man-Booker Prize. Now we have a winner, George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo. It is not one of the novels I read but it sounds very interesting. Congratulations to the author.

I realised that I had missed one of the books in the long-list that didn’t make it into the short-list, and as it had very good reviews, and for completion’s sake, I decided to read it. And yes, I loved it.

Days without End by Sebastian Barry
Days without End by Sebastian Barry

Days without End by Sebastian Barry

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

‘Pitch perfect, the outstanding novel of the Year.’ Observer

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Then when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Days-Without-End-Sebastian-Barry-ebook/dp/B01FWPGBE6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Days-Without-End-Sebastian-Barry-ebook/dp/B01FWPGBE6/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A haunting archeology of youth . . . Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant’s peculiar lilt and a proud boy’s humor. But in this country’s adolescence he also finds our essential human paradox, our heartbreak: that love and fear are equally ineradicable.”—Katy Simpson Smith, The New York Times Book Review

Days Without End is suffused with joy and good spirit . . . Through Barry, the frontiersman has a poet’s sense of language . . . If you underlined every sentence in Days Without End that has a rustic beauty to it, you’d end up with a mighty stripy book.”—Sarah Begley, Time

“Mr. Barry’s frontier saga is a vertiginous pile-up of inhumanity and stolen love: gore-soaked and romantic, murderous and musical . . . The rough-hewn yet hypnotic voice that Mr. Barry has fashioned carries the novel from the staccato chaos of battle to wistful hymns to youth . . . an absorbing story that sets the horrors of history against the consolations of hearth and home.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“Alternately brutal and folksy . . . Barry’s prose can take brilliant turns without sounding implausible coming out of Thomas’s mouth. A mordant vein of comedy runs through the book . . . the ‘wilderness of furious death’ his characters inhabit has a gut-punching credibility.”
—Michael Upchurch, The Washington Post

“A true leftfield wonder: Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making, the most fascinating line-by-line first person narration I’ve come across in years.”—Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winning author of The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant

“Sebastian Barry had me in no uncertain terms from the first sentence and never let up. And he writes like there’s no tomorrow—like there are days without end. He navigates the terrain as a master of fictional conventions and sweeps us along in a big picaresque arc that is just the right vessel for his thematic necessities.” —David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars

“Powerful and unsettling, an important look at one of history’s most regrettable chapters.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A tour de force of style and atmosphere . . . Evocative of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis, Days Without End is a timeless work of historical fiction.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“A lively, richly detailed story . . . A pleasure for fans of Barry and his McNulty stories.” –Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

Incredible . . . poetic . . . Remarkable . . . A gorgeous book about love and guilt, and duty to family.”—Book Riot’s “All The Books!”

Days Without End is a work of staggering openness; its startlingly beautiful sentences are so capacious that they are hard to leave behind, its narrative so propulsive that you must move on. In its pages, Barry conjures a world in miniature, inward, quiet, sacred; and a world of spaces and borders so distant they can barely be imagined. Taken as a whole, his McNulty adventure is experimental, self-renewing, breathtakingly exciting. It is probably not ended yet.”—Alex Clark, Guardian

“A crowning achievement.”—Justine Jordan, The Guardian

“Barry writes with a gloomy gloriousness: everyone that crosses his pages is in mortal danger, but there’s an elegant beauty even in the most fraught moments.”—Library Journal

“Thomas’s first-person narration sings with wonder at the beauty of the world and their place in it . . . Sebastian Barry balances gruesome depictions of massacres, near-starvation and Civil War battles with poetic phrasing and exclamations of joy at the wonders of nature and the gift of life . . . painful and beautiful novel.”—Shelf Awareness

“A lyrical, violent, touching book that is a war story, and a surprising love story. . . Barry, the Irish author, presents his tale in language that recalls great American writers, from Walt Whitman to Stephen Crane to Cormac McCarthy . . . Barry’s lyrical prose is full of fire and tenderness, violence and compassion, providing a sweeping and intimate vision of America’s conquest and its continuing search for identity.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“An absorbing novel… By making all of his characters rounded, full-blooded human beings, [Barry] has accomplished that thing – inclusion, I think we call it now – that art, particularly fiction, does best…The writing is unflaggingly vital; sentence after sentence fragment leaps out with surprises.”—The Bay Area Reporter

“Some novels sing from the first line, with every word carrying the score to a searing climax, and Days Without End is such a book. It has the majestic inevitability of the best fiction, at once historical but also contemporary in its concerns … Days Without End is pitch-perfect, the outstanding novel of the year so far.”—Observer

“For its exhilarating use of language alone, Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End stood out among the year’s novels. Epic in conception but comparatively brief in its extent, this brutal, beautiful book also features the year’s most beguiling narrator … A great American novel which happens to have been written by an Irishman.”—The Times Literary Supplement

“The novel comes close to being a modern masterpiece. Written in a style that is as delicate and economical as a spider’s web, it builds to a climax that is as brutally effective as a punch to the gut.”—The Times (UK)

“Remarkable … Life-affirming in the truest and best ways.”—Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

“Epic, lyrical and constantly surprising … a rich and satisfying novel.”—Jeff Robson, Independent

“A beautiful, savage, tender, searing work of art. Sentence after perfect sentence it grips and does not let go.”—Donal Ryan, author of The Spinning Heart, winner of the Guardian first book award

Author Sebastian Barry
Author Sebastian Barry

About the author:

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His plays include Boss Grady’s Boys (1988), The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998) and The Pride of Parnell Street (2007). His novels include The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), Annie Dunne (2002), A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008). He has won, among other awards, the Irish-America Fund Literary Award, the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Prize, the London Critics Circle Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize. A Long Long Way, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dublin International Impac Prize, was the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2007. The Secret Scripture won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the Irish Book Awards for Best Novel and the Independent Booksellers Prize. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, Christopher Ewart-Biggs award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sebastian-Barry/e/B001HD0UCC/

My review:

Those of you who follow my blog will know I had been trying to catch up on some of the books that had made initially the long-list and later the short-list of the Man-Booker Prize. Now we have a winner, George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo. It is not one of the novels I read but it sounds very interesting. Congratulations to the author.

I realised that I had missed one of the books in the long-list that didn’t make it into the short-list, and as it had very good reviews, and for completion’s sake, I decided to read it. And yes, I loved it.

I had not read any books by Sebastian Barry before, and when I read some of the reviews of this book I realised that the author has been chronicling, in some of his novels, the story of two Irish families. One of the protagonists of this story, and its narrator, Thomas McNulty, is a descendant of one of these families. Rest assured that you don’t need to have read Barry’s other novels to enjoy this one (I didn’t find out about this until I had finished reading it) but now that I know I confess I’d like to see how they all relate to each other.

Thomas is a young boy who ends up in America fleeing the Irish famine and we follow him through his many adventures. Very early on he meets a slightly older boy, John Cole, and they are inseparable throughout the story, or almost. In XIX century America they live through many experiences: they take to the stage dressed as girls to entertain miners (who have no women around); when they are old enough they join the army and fight in the Indian Wars. They later go back to the stage, this time with Thomas playing the girl (a part he enjoys), John her suitor and an Indian girl they’ve adopted, Winona, as their side act. As times get harder, they go back to the army, this time fighting for the North in the Civil War. And… it goes on.

The book is narrated in the first person by Thomas, who has a very peculiar voice, full of expressions appropriate to the historical era, some Irish terms, colloquialisms, witty and humorous saying, poetic passages and amateur philosophical reflexions. In some ways it reminded me of novels narrated by tricksters or other adventurers (I’ve seen people mention Huckleberry Finn, although the characters and the plot are quite different and so is the language used), but although Thomas is somebody determined to survive and easy-going, he never wishes anybody harm and seems warm and kind-hearted, even if he sometimes ends up doing things he lives to regret. I know some readers don’t enjoy first-person narrations. Whilst it can put you right inside the skin of the character, it also makes it more difficult to get to know other characters and if you don’t like the way a character talks, well, that’s it. Although I really enjoyed Thomas and the use of language, I know it won’t be for everybody, so I recommend checking it out first. Some reviews say that he is too articulate, but although we don’t know all the details of the character’s background, he is clearly literate and corresponds and talks to people from all walks of life through the book (poets, actors, priests, the major and his wife). And he is clearly clever, quick, and a good observer.

Although the story is set in America in mid-XIX century and recounts a number of historical events, these are told from a very special perspective (this is not History with a capital H, but rather an account of what somebody who had to live through and endure situations he had no saying on felt about the events), and this is not a book I would recommend to readers looking for a historical treatise. Yes, Thomas and John Cole love each other and have a relationship through the whole book and Thomas wears a dress often. There is little made of this and Thomas is better at talking about events and other people than at discussing his own feelings (and that, perhaps, makes the snippets he offers us all the more touching). Although perhaps the historical accuracy of some parts of the story (mostly about the characters’ relationship) stretches the imagination, the descriptions of the battles of the Indian Wars and the Civil War, and especially the way those involved in them felt, are powerful and evocative, horrible and heart-wrenching. There are no true heroes or villains, just people who play their parts as cogs in machines they don’t understand. (There are funny moments like when quite a racist character discovers that he’s fighting in the pro-abolition side. His reason for fighting is because the major he’d fought under in the Indian Wars asked him to. He never thought to ask what the war was about). Thomas reflects at times upon the similarities between what is happening there and what had happened in Ireland and does not miss the irony of the situation.

I had problems choosing some quotations from the book as I’d highlighted quite a lot of it, but here go:

If you had all your limbs they took you. If you were a one-eyed boy they might take you too even so. The only pay worse than the worst pay in America was army pay.

We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world.

The bottom was always falling out of something in America far as I could see.

Every little thing she says has grammar in it, she sounds like a bishop.

Things just go on. Lot of life is just like that. I look back over fifty years of life and wonder where the years went. I guess they went like that, without me noticing much. A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that.

There’s no soldier don’t have a queer little spot in his wretched heart for his enemy, that’s just a fact. Maybe only on account of him being alive in the same place and at the same time and we are all just customers of the same three-card trickster. Well, who knows the truth of it all.

He is as dapper as a mackerel.

How we going to count all the souls to be lost in this war?

Men so sick they are dying of death. Strong men to start that are hard to kill.

Killing hurts the heart and soils the soul.

I loved the story and the characters and I hope to read more novels by Barry in the future. I recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction and westerns, with a big pinch of salt, those who love narrators with a distinctive voice, and fans of Barry. From now on I count myself among them.

Thanks to Faber and Faber and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Thanks for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’0143035096,0142002879,0143115693,0140280189,0143122185,0143127128,B005SEEHWA’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’700a7d60-b5d0-11e7-a614-a9ff6480c960′]

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

12 replies on “#Bookreview DAYS WITHOUT END by Sebastian Barry (@FaberBooks) A Western, a Civil War novel, and a love story whose narrator you won’t forget. #historicalfiction #Iamreading”

A book featuring the US Civil War, and that compelling historical language too, Sounds like one for me, in every way imaginable. On my Amazon wish list now, thanks to your review, Olga.
Best wishes, Pete.

Thanks, Christoph. A great book. If they get a good narrator (I’d be surprised if they didn’t, considering the attention the book got) it will be fantastic. Enjoy and have a great week!

Your review of this interesting book really made me want to read it. I enjoy historical/romantic books, so I should enjoy this one. Shame it didn’t get to the short list!

Thanks so much, Jaye and Anita. I’m not sure about their criteria and I didn’t get to read all the shortlisted titles, but I wonder if the fact that it had won the Costa award already had anything to do with it. Many people thought The Underground Railroad would win and it didn’t make it into the shortlist either (but had won many awards). Even with the hard moments, it is a joy of a book. Have a great week.

It is a fascinating setting and the characters are wonderful too. I must try and catch up on some other novels by the author. He writes beautifully. Thanks, Robbie and have a great week.

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