The weather is beautiful but exam season is unfortunately upon us. So of course I’m not reading what really I’d like to be. However, the book I’m currently studying back to front is amazing so I’m hear to talk about it in the best form of procrastination.
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry is one of the best books I have read this year. When I read a small overview one of my tutors had prepared, I was initially put off by the focus being set in the American Civil War, and from the perspective of a soldier. Whilst I love a war story, the American Civil War has never appealed to me greatly and I tend to avoid it if I can help it. I could have got away with not reading this one, as there were many other historical novels to choose from. However, the pretty cover and the renowned author drew me in, and I began reading on my bus journey to and from university and work.
I was so surprised! Here’s a short overview (free of spoilers if anyone is interested in reading) :
Thomas McNulty narrates and the story sees his re-telling of the later part of his life as a soldier in the American army, fighting both Native Americans and Confederates. Much of his focus is taken up by John Cole, whom he often refers to as his ‘beau’- John Cole is his secret lover. The pair take life by the horns. Both are marginalised parties of some kind, Thomas an Irish immigrant and John half Indian. They have had difficult lives and it doesn’t get any easier in the tale Thomas narrates, however the thoughtful and explorative angle he takes makes the story almost philosophical.
Thomas reflects on many themes, such as the concept of time and death. Through his voice, Barry is also able to explore other notions, such as the complexities of war, of politics, of gender and of sexuality. In fact, the book is dedicated to his son Toby, who came out as gay. It is a story deeply rooted in history, but the ideas that Barry explores really do transcend the period it is set to capture.
I’d highly recommend reading this if you like history, and particularly if you like a thought provoking read. Not only was I thinking in an American accent after reading this, but I was also constantly reflecting on my own views and how I may have judged history too harshly and without thought. Whilst Barry recognises the atrocities of colonisation and the civil war, I think he also wants to ask readers to consider how complex it really is, and how it is hard to place moral labels on either side without considering every person involved.
Thanks for reading. I will be much more active very soon as summer approaches. I am so0o0 excited and hopefully will have some exciting news to reveal soon, fingers crossed !!