Top critical review
27 people found this helpful
on 6 October 2005
Long Long Way is, put simply, a war novel. When you read a war novel you expect to learn that war is hell. Willie Dunne is our 18 year old Irish war hero, too short to enter into the police force in which his Da honorably serves, he enlists. Political forces are about their dirty work at home in Ireland, as well as in Europe and the Easter Rising fractures a society still raw and tender over the issues of Home Rule. With this backdrop we are pitched into the horror of war and the mind of a young soldier who's alligences pull him in every direction. He fights for a King who's also sending men to fight against his Irish brothers and sisters. Willie, while on leave, witnesses the chaos and horror of the political changes that are killing the life he knew and loved. Robbing him of his friends and of his memories. Willie's relationship with his father strains and this emotional tension between father and son could have been better realised, as could Willie's other familial relationships. A few letters cant draw out full characters and they remain grey and undefined as does the love of his life, Gretta.
We are treated to some superb writing about the horrors and futility of war but this has all been done countless times before. Sebastian Barry has tried to freshen up the message that 'war is hell' by attempting to weave into his novel the sub-plot of the strife back home in Ireland. I personally didnt think it worked. The novel sparked and moved me when the day to day details of the lads themselves were pieced together as they witnessed the slaugthher all around them. Willie's character didn't seem to change, he didn't harden or become bitter despite the carnage that he witnessed. He seemd the same person at the end of the novel as he did at the start, there was no real sense of a loss of innocence or of a person being systematically robbed of his very identity by the political monster that he was ironically serving. The troubles back home didn't really alter his attitude to the war he was fighting or to the people he was fighting it with. This is where the novel failed itself. But, if you are after a good, realistic slice of Great War life with a unique Irish flavour, then you will enjoy the company that Willie keeps, especially the enigmatic Christie Moran. The human tragedy is wonderfully told in several diverse strands which include a moving account of a young soldier being excecuted. The closing chapters offer up the finest writing of the whole novel and these were genuinely moving. I wont give anything away but these final pages make the whole journey worthwhile.