Sebastian Barry's award-winning novel Days without End depicts life as an Irish soldier during the American Civil War who has fled the 1850s famine in his homeland.
From scraping a living dressing as salon girls in order to entertain gold prospectors, to facing the opponent on the battlefields, Thomas McNulty is joined throughout by his comrade John Cole. The duo adopt an Indian waif from a Sioux encampment, thus creating the perfect heart-wrenching cast.
I feel the narrative can be described in two words: "Holden" and "Caulfield". Unfortunately, I am not a fan of The Catcher in the Rye and this book was not endeared to me.
McNulty was a character I struggled to relate to and sympathise with. At times he seemed to be a brave, worthy soldier and at others a despondent young man who was lost amongst Americans. Because the Irishman is such a prominent protagonist, with his voice consistent throughout the story, there was a question mark over both plot and character.
As McNulty is sent to the battlefields, Barry describes the Western landscape to be ethereal, if lonesome. His eloquent metaphors were certainly my favourite part of the novel. The evocative American wilderness was one of the few parts of the book that kept me reading.
The short sentences filling this book scrape irritatingly – Thomas McNulty's character voice made me neither empathise nor appeal to his situation. Half-way through the tale, when the soldiers are fighting the Civil War, his descriptions of the battlefields did not conjure any images in my mind. I found the sentences stilted and bland instead of giving me insight into a Civil War soldier's life.
I did enjoy the romance between McNulty and comrade John Cole. The idea of a gay love interest during years when such an alliance was considered scandalous definitely pulled the plot together.
From a very early stage in the book you see McNulty's pleasure as he is employed to masquerade as a salon girl and dance with men who miss the luxuries and womenfolk of their home. This beginning section of the book touched me the most; a young man flees his homeland and finds solace in his service.
Although I certainly did not enjoy this book, it is a sacred memorial to the sagas and inhumane events of the American Civil War.
- Image, stack of the Man Booker Prize 2017 longlist, courtesy of the Booker Prize Foundation.