Author Sebastian Barry, 2016 © The Irish Times

2017 Man Booker Review: Days Without End

6th September 2017

By Jill Glenn

I wanted to read this quickly; it was the last on my list, and I needed it done… but I couldn’t. Instead, I cancelled social engagements and gave 'Days Without End' the time it deserved.

Sebastian Barry’s narrative voice never falters in this beautifully realised account of love and war in the American West. We are in the head of Irishman Thomas McNulty (a scion of the Sligo family about whom much of Barry’s work revolves), who has fled his own country after famine and bereavement. He hooks up with New Englander, John Cole, and the pair enlist, fighting in the Indian Wars and the Civil War and remaining together afterwards.

This is, in effect, a Western, but it transcends the limitations of its genre. Events are savage, and savagely described, but in language that is sublime.

McNulty doesn’t shy away from awful truths, but his telling is thoughtful and profound. The writing takes my breath away; the style is both lyrical and direct, and, there’s a rich rooting in the physicality of landscape and weather that grounds it and gives it weight. Barry has delivered an epic work, that captivates from the first sentence to the last.

Note: This review is a re-print from our feature on the Costa Book Awards. Sebastian Barry was awarded Costa Novel Award Winner 2016.

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