Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Days Without End came onto my radar while long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. This novel follows protagonist Thomas McNulty and his best friend and partner in crime John Cole. After forming their friendship under a bush in the pouring rain the two boys are inseparable and find themselves signing up in the US army to fight in the Indian Wars and later the Civil War. What follows are moments of great brutality showing the very worst of humanity and moments of profound love and tenderness. Adopting a young Indian girl along the way the reader wonders how can their happiness survive in such a precarious world.


For me this was a fascinating story which I just could not put down. The novel takes the reader to such extremes. The ugly and dark violence of men at war in both the Indian and Civil wars. These times were full of brutality and bloodlust where men caught up in the moment will do anything. Then the reader is privy to moments of peaceful beauty within relationships and the family unit, although a highly unconventional family in those times. I found myself almost too invested in the relationship between Thomas and John Cole. The devotion and love our protagonist help for John Cole was touching. I was almost panicked at the thought of an unhappy ending for the men.


I was able to lose myself in Barry’s memorable writing. I did find at times if I wasn’t concentrating properly I would lose the thread of what was going on – so definitely a read you wan to consume yourself in, not a light one in my opinion. I found myself having to reread passages several times to ensure I took in what was going on but ultimately loved the style and tone employed by Barry. In fact there are so many beautiful passages and scenes that I can’t stop thinking about.


This truly is a novel of contrasts and in my opinion is well worth picking up. I can definitely understand why this was included on the Man Booker long-list and I hope to see it short-listed in the coming months. Days Without End is full of beautiful prose, tender moments juxtaposed with moments of brutality and violence, which was so dominant in that era. I give Days Without End four donkeys leading our heroes out of danger.


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