Excerpt from Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Days Without End

by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry X
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 pages

    Sep 2017, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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maybe he thought he would lose that blast of friendship if I didn't know the bad things quickly. Well. I told him how best to look at that. Me, the child of poor Sligonians blighted likewise. No, us McNultys didn't got much to crow about.

Maybe out of respect for the vulnerable soul of John Cole I might skip ahead violently and avoid an account of our earlier years. Except he might also acknowledge that those years were important in their way and I cannot say either that they constituted in any way a time of shameful suffering in particular. Were they shameful? I don't see eye to eye with that. Let me call them our dancing days. Why the hell not. After all we was only children obliged to survive in a dangerous terrain. And survive we did and as you see I have lived to tell the tale. Having made our acquaintance under an anonymous hedge it seemed natural and easy to join together in the enterprise of continuing survival. That is John Cole in his minority and I placed our steps side by side on the rainy road and proceeded into the next town in that frontier district where there were hundreds of rough miners working and a half dozen tumultuous saloons set up in a muddy thoroughfare endeavouring to entertain them.

Not that we knew much of that. In these times John Cole was a slight boy as I have laboured to illustrate with his river-black eyes and his lean face as sharp as a hunting dog. I was my younger self. That is though I was maybe fifteen after my Irish and Canadian and American adventures I looked as young as him. But I had no idea what I looked like. Children may feel epic and large to theyselves and yet be only scraps to view.

Just sick of stumbling round. Two is better together, he said.

So then our idea was to find work slopping out or any of the jobs abhorrent to decent folk. We didn't know much about adult persons. We just didn't know hardly a thing. We were willing to do anything and even exulted in the fact. We were ready to go down into sewers and shovel the shit along. We might have been happy to commit obscure murders, if it didn't involve capture and punishment, we didn't know. We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world. We were of the opinion our share of food was there if we sought it out. The bread of heaven John Cole called it because after the fall of his father he has much frequented those places where hymns and meagre food was put into him in equal measure.

Weren't many places like that in Daggsville. Weren't any. Daggsville was all uproar, mucky horses, banging doors, queer shouting. By this time in my biographical ventures I must confess I was wearing an old wheat-sack, tied at the waist. It sorta looked like clothing but not much. John Cole was better in an old queer black suit that musta been three hundred years old, judging by the gaps in it. Anyway he was having a breezy time of it about the crotch, far as I could see. You could nearly reach in and measure his manhood, so your eyes did their best to be kept looking away. I devised a good method to deal with such a thing and fixed fiercely on his face, which was no work in itself, it was a pleasing face. Next thing comes up in our view a spanking new building all fresh wood and even a last sparkle in the recently beaten nailheads. Saloon a sign said, no more nor less. And underneath, on a smaller sign hanging from a string, Clean boys wanted.

Look, see, says John Cole, who didn't have the great learning I had, but had a little none the less. Well, he says, by my mother's loving heart, we do fulfil half of that requirement.
Straight in, and there was a highly pleasant quotient of good dark wood, dark panelling floor to ceiling, a long bar as sleek and black as an oil-seep. Then we felt like bugs in a girl's bonnet. Alien. Pictures of those fine American scenes of grandeur that are more comfortable to gaze on than to be in. Man there behind the bar, complete with chamois cloth, philosophically polishing a surface that needed no polishing. It was plain to see all was a new enterprise. There was a carpenter finishing up on the stairs going to the upward rooms, fitting the last section of a rail. The bartender had his eyes closed or he might have seen us sooner. Might even have given us the bum's rush. Then the eyes open and instead of the drawing back and cussing at us we expected this more discerning individual smiled, looked pleased to see us.

Excerpted from Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. Copyright © 2017 by Sebastian Barry. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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