Sebastian Barry’s latest is novel is fantastic. These 300 pages contained such unexpected brilliance that it knocked me sideways. It’s an early contender for book of the year…
It’s hard to summarise the epic nature of Days Without End – it’s scope is massive, sprawling across almost the entire US, in a period of history that contains both the Indian and Civil Wars. But its focus is small – following Thomas McNulty after he’s made a break for the US from famine starved Ireland.
In the US, he poses as a dancing girl in a frontier town, joins the Cavalry, slaughters Native Americans, fights in the Civil War, and starts to build a life with John Cole, his best friend a secret lover.
This is the canvas for Barry to explore identity – all the way from the personal (in one scene Tom becomes Thomasina to marry his lover) to the national (how is America the land of the free, if it keeps on oppressing one group of people after another?).
Now all of this is a bit weird so far, and the I’m not sure that the most writers would be able to make it hang together in any believable way. But then Tom’s voice is electrifying, his observations perfect, and his turn of phrase mesmerizing. Like when he turns his thoughts to reminiscence:
“A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards.”
It’s packed with little bits like this that make you stop and think twice. The whole thing layers up into a near perfect novel that adds a new and different thread to the US tapestry.
I genuinely wasn’t expecting it to be this good when I picked it up. I highly recommend it.
So what do you think? Have you read it? Did you like it? Would you recommend it?
Let me know in the comments!