Book Review: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry


Winner of the Costa Novel award 2016 and Book of the Year Days Without End is the first novel I have read of Sebastian Barry and after reading this epic novel I am going back for the rest.

Barry’s mastery of literary prose is nothing short of brilliance.  I picked up this book yesterday and devoured it within 24 hours such was the story’s ability to grip the reader.

Barry’s novel is told through the eyes of its protagonist – Thomas McNulty during the Indian wars in 1850’s America.  Those familiar with Barry’s works will note the continuation of this family name.  The powerful introduction to the story sees McNulty note the irony of a soldier’s funeral:  “The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake…All their uniforms brushed down with lamp-oil into a state never seen when they were alive“.  Reading on – the reader, through tackling some vivid descriptions, can empathise with this frustration.

We follow McNulty through his early years in Ireland where following the death of his parents and sister he boards a fateful ship to America.  The account of surviving this ship is harrowing and is unlikely to leave my imagination.  McNulty and his companion – Joe Cole – then move from living to surviving back and forth until the very end.   This story is that of survivorship.  At all levels.

Against this bleak narration of the relentless battle to survive, Barry weaves in a beautiful love story between his protagonist and his companion.  The reader is left in no doubt as to the affections of the two when Barry in an one paragraph sentence simply states “And then we quietly fucked and then we slept.”  Their story is not one of co-dependency but of support.  Support to one another and support to their adopted Sioux child – Winona.  Coupled with this love story is the protagonists gender transformation: “Maybe I was born a man and growing into a woman.  Maybe that boy that John Cole met was but a girl already.”.  This was incredibly subtle and added to the story wonderfully.

After finishing the novel I couldn’t help but hope that McNulty’s days of love and hope were in fact without end.

Recommended for: historical fiction lovers.  If you liked Homegoing you will enjoy this novel

Rating: 4/5

Favourite quotes: Silence more speaking than any sound

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

  1. Pingback: January Wrap Up
  2. Lovely review! I’ve been eyeing this one up for a while, sounds really great. Told myself I would stop splashing out on hardbacks so might wait for the paperback edition!

    Liked by 1 person

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