Days Without End Paperback – 6 Feb 2017
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A beautiful, savage, tender, searing work of art. Sentence after perfect sentence it grips and does not let go. (DONAL RYAN)
A true leftfield wonder: Sebastian Barry's Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making [and] the most fascinating line-by-line first person narration I've come across in years. (KAZUO ISHIGURO)
I am a huge fan - nobody writes like, nobody takes lyrical risks like, nobody pushes the language, and the heart, and the two together, quite like Sebastian Barry does, so that you come out of whatever he writes like you've been away, in another climate. (ALI SMITH)
A book about cruel times, for cruel times. And tender enough to swell your throat ... Not since Peter Carey's Ned Kelly has a narrative voice so got inside my head. (Tom Sutcliffe BBC Radio 4)
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 Secret Scripture and A Long Long Way were shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and there is every reason to think that this novel could do just as well next year. It could even go a stage farther. It really is that good. (Robert Douglas-Fairhurst The Times)
Sebastian Barry returns with a sensational new novel set in mid-19th Century America.See all Product description
From the Publisher
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 some of the most fateful years in America's past, Days Without End is a novel never to be forgotten.
Days Without End
'A beautiful, savage, tender, searing work of art. Sentence after perfect sentence it grips and does not let go.' Donal Ryan.
'A violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making [and] the most fascinating line-by-line first person narration I’ve come across in years.' Kazuo Ishiguro.
'I am thinking of the days without end of my life'.
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 they find these days to be vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Their lives are further enriched and imperilled when a young Indian girl crosses their path, and the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive.
About Sebastian Barry
Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels and plays have won, among other awards,.He also had two consecutive novels, A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.
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The gruesome, barbaric depictions of the massacres of the Indians and the battles and prison camps of the Civil War showed the brutality of which mankind is capable. How people who have nothing, who are treated as nothing, end up being herded like sheep to kill and be killed, when all that matters is survival. Intensely heart rendering, it showed the worst aspects of war, violence, greed, politics, need, and betrayal.
I found the insight into the lives and mindset of a soldier under orders in combat situations shocking and thought provoking, and for me, described the horror of war in such a powerful and gripping way that I felt I was almost there with Thomas McNulty, feeling all the complexity of emotion of fear, comradeship, adrenalin and revulsion. One quote regarding the army: “Just a passing parade of cruel moments and long dreary stretches where nothing going on but chicory drinking and whisky and cards. We’re strange people, soldiers stuck in wars.” There are no true heroes or villains, just people who play their parts as cogs in machines they don’t understand. Illustrating this is the humorous account between Starling Carlton and Dan Fitzgerald, when Carlton, who is an out and out racist, but doesn’t understand that he is fighting on the side of the black man, and is only fighting because the major asked him to! Blind obedience.
Atrocity was accompanied by dazzling and poetic expressions of the wonders of the natural world woven in with a tender, beautiful love story, not only between handsome John Cole and Thomas or “Thomasina” McNulty, but the love for their adoptive Indian daughter Winona, who came from such tragic circumstances.
I felt the author evoked the real feel of the Old West brilliantly, with all its hardships and few pleasures, through the raw and earthy, sometimes coarse narrative of Thomas with his ungrammatical but compelling voice, which belied his wisdom, resilience, humour and heart.
Thomas was loving, courageous and loyal. Despite having survived the dreadful famine in Ireland, he had the ability to see the good in bad people and the bad in good people and accepted people for what they were.
As for the humour in this book, I really don’t know where to start, there were so many wonderful laugh out loud witticisms and observational humour that I had to read some of them repeatedly to enjoy them to the full. One in particular was the vision of Starling Carlton falling into the mud after battle and lying there exhausted, sweating profusely, with “enough sweat in the mud to throw a pot”.
Just a few more quotes and I am finished: (!)
“I only say it because without saying I don’t think anything can be properly understood. How we were able to see slaughter without flinching. Because we were nothing ourselves, to begin with. We knew what to do with nothing, we were at home there. Hunger is a sort of fire, a furnace. I loved my father when I was a human person formerly. Then he died and I was hungry and then the ship. Then nothing. Then America. Then John Cole.”
The language of the book is exquisite and the love story natural and understated. In a brief pause in the war between Settlers and Indians, the troop visit a settlement: ‘In the beautiful blue night, there was plenty of visiting and the braves were proud to offer a lonesome soldier a squaw for the duration of his passion. John Cole and me sought out a hollow away from prying eyes.’ The story however, is violent, ugly and shows the brutality of which mankind is capable. After the final act of slaughter, McNulty realises that the soldiers - many of them of Irish origin - had butchered the Indians in the same way Cromwell’s men had fallen on his ancestors in Sligo. ‘Said the Irish were vermin and devils. Clean out the country for good people to step into. Make a paradise. Now we make this American paradise I guess.’
I found the book a delight from the first page - I seldom award five stars. Although I can't pretend to have enjoyed the violence, it felt an honest account of different times. However, when I put the book down, I wondered just how much we have changed. We still demonise outsiders and that's only a step or two from allowing ourselves to commit similarly unthinkable acts.