My grateful thanks to Niriksha Bharadia at Faber for a copy of Days Without End by Sebastian Barry in return for an honest review.
Days Without End is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here.
Days Without End
‘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.
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.
My Review of Days Without End
Meeting John Cole under a hedge will have an impact on the life of young Thomas McNulty beyond his imaginings.
I am stunned by Days Without End. This is a book that will stay with me as a reader for a very long time and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it. I was completely immersed in the narrative and it felt much more like listening to an authentic voice and natural raconteur than reading. I genuinely forgot that Thomas was simply a character in a book as I became spellbound by his words.
I loved everything about Days Without End. It provided such a vivid picture in my mind of America in the middle 1800s because the quality of writing is so evocative. There’s such variety of sentence structure and innovative style with variable punctuation. The lack of direct speech meant it felt like I was listening to real conversation which appealed to my ear as well as my eye. There’s dry humour so that I laughed aloud and real emotion so that I was close to tears. There’s lyrical presentation of the prosaic, whereas the extraordinary is frequently presented in a matter of fact tone so that the impact is all the more resounding. I adored the imaginative similes and metaphors which lent poetry to harshness. I truly feel Sebastian Barry is a tour de force in writing.
The quality of detail meant that I have a vivid and disurbing understanding of America at the time. The treatment of Native Americans, the civil war, the weather, farming, shanty towns and poverty were all laid out before me in a raw, brutal and affecting read.
However, it is the characterisation that really had a grip on me. The relationship between the giant John Cole and the diminutive Thomas McNulty is just beautifully presented. Their love for one another as friends and lovers is sensitively and realistically portrayed. I could feel the emotion of longing leaping off the page when they were parted. I got to the point where I would have done almost anything to keep them together and had to remind myself I was actually reading a fictional story!
Days Without End is sheer genius. I feel my life has been enhanced by reading it and I won’t ever be the same as a reader again.
About Sebastian Barry
Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels and plays have won, among other awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Costa Book of the Year award, the Irish Book Awards Best Novel, the Independent Booksellers Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. 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.