COSTA BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNER
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2017 MAN BOOKER PRIZE
"A true leftfield wonder: Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making."—Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winning author of The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant
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.
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.
Barry's (The Secret Scripture) latest novel features Irish orphan boy Thomas McNulty, who departs Sligo during the potato famine to make his way to America. On the Missouri frontier, Thomas and best buddy John Cole work in a saloon dressing up as female dancing partners for local miners. When the boys mature enough to look more like men, they enlist in the Army, ending up as soldiers in the brutal Indian Wars while secret lovers at night. After their tour of duty ends, they head to Grand Rapids, where they perform onstage in drag, accompanied by Winona, a nine-year-old Sioux they care for like a daughter. With the Civil War looming, Thomas and John Cole join the Union Army, only to encounter more suffering and senseless violence fighting in the Valley of Virginia, then as prisoners of war at Andersonville. Eventually they are freed, but the past catches up: Winona's uncle, Catch-His-Horse-First, wants her back. Barry's description of Thomas's courageous effort to protect Winona achieves the drama and pathos of the author's best fiction. Other parts of the novel prove erratic. Despite moments of humor and colorful metaphors, Thomas's inconsistent, occasionally unconvincing narrative voice wavers between lyricism and earthiness. Thomas's trail of woe, though historically accurate, makes for onerous reading. 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.