Hi everyone! Today I’m going to review Sebastian Barry’s Man Booker long listed novel, Days Without End. Our narrator is Thomas McNulty, an Irish emigrant who comes to America via Canada in search for a new life. He meets John Cole and they quickly become lovers. The novel follows the men from their days working as dancers in a mining community, to their time as soldiers in the Indian wars and subsequently the American Civil War.
Days Without End was a very visceral read for me. Barry’s prose is very beautiful and lyrical, and I was rereading several passages just because of how stunning they were. It seems odd talking about how beautiful the language is given how violent the battle scenes are. Barry really captures the sights and smells of war that there were times when I had to look away. My stomach churned a little at some of the more graphic moments as his word choice was so vivid.The long sentences with no pauses also helps to place you in the heat of the action. There is no rest, a lot of action is happening at once, and you just keep going without really thinking about it. It is only after the battle is finished do both McNulty and the reader become more contemplative and reflect on what they have witnessed. I really liked Barry’s use of language, both to describe the heat of battle and also the aftermath. It places you amongst the soldiers and you really feel for them.
I also liked the character of McNulty. I thought he had a very distinctive voice which Barry kept up throughout the novel. He is a man who has been through a lot of trauma and yet still has this amazing thirst for life. His love for John Cole is also really beautiful and the adoration he has for his partner seems to radiate from the pages. My only criticism is sometimes I think he appears quite detached. For example, we might be told a fellow soldier is a friend to McNulty and Cole. That soldier would then die in battle and he is merely brushed off. McNulty would simply say the soldier died and moves on. It felt really cold and unbelievable at times. I would of thought McNulty would have been affected by the death of a fellow soldier, especially one he considered a friend. Also McNulty is the narrator so we obviously see everything from his perspective, but I still would’ve liked to see more of John Cole. I think he was a very interesting character and I think he could of been fleshed out a little bit more.
Overall I really enjoyed Days Without End, and think it is very easy to see why it made the longlist. It is a very beautiful novel with some of the best prose I’ve read this year. The novel tackles some big themes including gender, sexuality and war but it never feels muddled. Barry weaves these into the narrative with considerable ease which I admired. There are some criticisms regarding characterisation, but reflecting back on the story, they seem quite minor compared to the wealth of positive attributes in the novel. This is my first novel by Barry and I can’t wait to pick up another of his works.
Days Without End is published by Faber & Faber. Click here for more information.