‘Swear to God, army was a good life. I was seventeen or thereabouts beginning, I could not say for certain’
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry.
Winner of The Costa Book Of The Year 2016, Days Without End is published by Faber and Faber and a book I will not easily forget.
I was extremely lucky to get my hands on a copy a week ago and immediately set to reading it at the weekend. This is a difficult review to write because this is just such a raw and wonderful novel but I will try my best…
After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, go on to fight in the Indian wars and, ultimately, the Civil War.
Having fled terrible hardships themselves, they find these days to be vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both witness and are complicit in.
Their lives are further enriched and endangered when a young Indian girl crosses their path, and the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive.
Moving from the plains of the West to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. Both an intensely poignant story of two men and the lives they are dealt, and a fresh look at the most fateful years in America’s past, Days Without End is a novel never to be forgotten.
Here is a book that will eat you up and spit you out exhausted…
I smiled at the gentle moments of love, I cried at the graphic description of death, I felt the cold of the Winters and the sweat dripping heat of the Summers.
This is a story quite unlike any I have read before. It is not my first time reading a book by Sebastian Barry, having previously read The Secret Scripture, On Caanan’s Side, with a copy of The Temporary Gentleman in my TBR pile.
Each book has affected me in various ways, each leaving a mark on me and, each & every one, a book I would highly recommend.
Days Without End tells the story of two young men, Thomas McNulty and John Cole. Thrown together in such devastating circumstances, their lives become forever entwined.
Starting off in the dance-halls of the Wild West to joining the army and fighting ‘injuns’ , Thomas and John go on a journey and together survive some of the most awful events in history,
‘We’re strange people, soldiers stuck out in wars. We ain’t saying no laws in Washington. We ain’t walking on yon great lawns. Storms kill us, and battles and the earth closes over and no one need say a word and I don’t believe we mind. Happy to breath because we seen terror and horror and then for a while they ain’t in dominion. Bibles weren’t wrote for us nor any books. We ain’t maybe what people do call human…’
Thomas McNulty has very little mass on the life he has been given. He has very little, if no respect, for himself, but what he has is a gentle slow love for the one human being who can save him and make him feel life can be survived. John Cole is a character I was able to visualise quite clearly. He has an aura about him with an almost regal stance. He is a proud man.
Thomas and John fight in the Civil War, they fight, against their better judgement, with the Indians. They take their orders for a wage, a bed, a means to an end. Along the way, a young Indian girl, named Winona, comes under their charge. Thomas and John will stop at nothing to keep her safe. There is a loyalty between the two men that surpasses many a great love story and Winona brings a sense of family to the them. Both have faded memories of their youth when times were very tough but they had a family. Now with their lives enhanced by the company of a young girl, both John and Thomas struggle against every adversary to keep this tender family unit intact.
Days Without End struck me as an unusual name for a novel before I read it. Now having come out the other side I understand it.
Sebastian Barry is deserving of every accolade he receives. This is not a book for the faint of heart. There is a lot of death present and the descriptions are very…well descriptive. There are scenes of annihilation of a people that would make you feel sick to the core. Innocence is destroyed in the violence of a society that was confused, uneducated and driven by greed….greed for a land that was not their’s. In the midst of all that though, there is a love story. Written in such a delicate manner and with such a beautiful turn of phrase, this love story is a unique one to be part of. A brief glimpse into a world where the horrors of society lie side by side with love.
I thank you Sebastian Barry for writing this book and I thank you Faber & Faber for my winning copy.
Please don’t hesitate…..
Purchase Link : Days Without End
About the author:
Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955.
His plays include The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998) and The Pride of Parnell Street (2007).
His novels include A Long Long Way (2005), The Secret Scripture (2008), winner of the Costa Book of the Year, The Temporary Gentleman (2014) and Days Without End (2016). He has won, among other awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year, the Independent Booksellers Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. A Long Long Way and the top ten bestseller The Secret Scripture were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
He lives in County Wicklow with his wife and three children.
(Courtesy of Costa Book Awards)