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Summary and book reviews of Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

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
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry's latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

"I am thinking of the days without end of my life. And it is not like that now."

From the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry, "a master storyteller" (Wall Street Journal), comes a powerful new novel of duty and family set against the American Indian and Civil Wars.

Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars - against the Sioux and the Yurok - and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.

Chapter One

The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake. Like decking out our poor lost troopers for marriage rather than death. All their uniforms brushed down with lamp-oil into a state never seen when they were alive. Their faces clean shaved, as if the embalmer sure didn't like no whiskers showing. No one that knew him could have recognised Trooper Watchorn because those famous Dundrearies was gone. Anyway Death likes to make a stranger of your face. True enough their boxes weren't but cheap wood but that was not the point. You lift one of those boxes and the body makes a big sag in it. Wood cut so thin at the mill it was more a wafer than a plank. But dead boys don't mind things like that. The point was, we were glad to see them so well turned out, considering.

I am talking now about the finale of my first engagement in the business of war. 1851 it was most likely. Since the bloom was gone off me, I had volunteered  aged ...

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  • award image

    Costa Book Awards
    2016

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

While this novel shares some elements with Westerns and Civil War fiction, it's unique in several ways. Though thrilling and episodic, it's deeply thoughtful as well. Days Without End is dedicated to Barry's son, Toby, whose coming-out inspired him to think about where homosexuality might have been present in forgotten pockets of history. It contains the most matter-of-fact consideration of same-sex relationships I've ever encountered in historical fiction. Heart-breaking, life-affirming, laugh-out-loud: these may be clichés, but here's one novel that is all these things and more. Truly unforgettable...continued

Full Review (789 words).

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

The Independent (UK)
Epic, lyrical and constantly suprising ... a rich and satisfying novel.

The Guardian (UK)
Days Without End is a work of staggering openness; its startlingly beautiful sentences are so capacious that they are hard to leave behind, its narrative so propulsive that you must move on. In its pages, Barry conjures a world in miniature, inward, quiet, sacred; and a world of spaces and borders so distant they can barely be imagined.

Financial Times (UK)
Days Without End is not only a story of survival, it is a love story, too, written in a gorgeous style that blends Barry's characteristic eloquence with the straight-talk of early America . . . Days Without End takes the reader back to a critical point of fracture in the history of the US ... Barry appears to paint a world where outsiders can find a path through the destruction wreaked all around.

The Times (UK)
The novel comes close to being a modern masterpiece. Written in a style that is as delicate and economical as a spider's web, it builds to a climax that is as brutally effective as a punch to the gut.

The Daily Mail (UK)
Remarkable ... Life-affirming in the truest and best ways.

The Scotsman (UK)
The narrative is gripping, descriptions of landscape vivid and beautiful, evocations of military life, brutal warfare, cruelty and courage utterly compelling.

Publishers Weekly
The explicit battle scenes may also be difficult to take, but they have energy and intensity, in contrast with Thomas and John's love story, which traces without much drama how Thomas comes to realize he prefers dresses to a uniform.

Kirkus Reviews
A pleasure for fans of Barry and his McNulty stories and a contribution not just to Irish literature in English, but also the literature of the American West.

Booklist
Starred Review. Evocative of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis, Days without End is a timeless work of historical fiction.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Barry writes with a gloomy gloriousness: everyone that crosses his pages is in mortal danger, but there's an elegant beauty even in the most fraught moments

The Irish Times
Sebastian Barry is the most humane of writers. The leeway is always generous; beauty is mined to its last redemptive glint. Like McNulty, the voice is humorous, compassionate, true. It is his glory as a writer. It is the stern, glorious music of a great novel.

Author Blurb Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winning author of The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant
A true leftfield wonder: Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making, the most fascinating line-by-line first person narration I've come across in years.

Author Blurb Donal Ryan, author of The Spinning Heart, winner of the Guardian first book award
A beautiful, savage, tender, searing work of art. Sentence after perfect sentence it grips and does not let go.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

a moving and powerful read
“The mind is a wild liar and I don’t trust much in it that I find there. To tell a story I have to trust it but I can issue a warning like a ticket master issuing a ticket for a western-bound train that will be obliged to go through wilderness, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Native American Tradition of Winkte

The two main characters in Sebastian Barry's Days Without End, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, are white soldiers who at various points dress up as women for entertainment or disguise. They are thus surprised but bemused when they take part in the Indian Wars and encounter the Native Americans' winkte or berdache tradition of men who dress as women:

with the ease of men who have rid themselves of worry we strolled among the Indian tents and heard the sleeping babies breathing and spied out the wondrous kind called by the Indians winkte or by white men berdache, braves dressed in the finery of squaws. ...The berdache puts on men's garb when he goes to war, this I know. Then war over it's back to the bright dress.

Winkte is a shortened ...

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