Long Listed for the Man Booker Prize this year Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End” is a saga about survival and savagery of mid-19th century America toward Native American Sioux and Yurok, and each other through the beginning of Reconstruction in West and border states of Tennessee and Missouri. Told in first-person narrative by Thomas McNulty, it traces the harsh life he and his lover John Cole led from homeless Irish orphans to drag performers and soldiers in Union army.
In part it is a tale of Irish immigrants who survived the Potato Famine. The author is no flatterer of Irish prejudice, even among the morally pure. It can be learned merely by living, not only by the Irish.
” I don’t trust anyone. What we walked through was the strike-out of her kindred. Scrubbed off with a metal brush like dirt and dried blood on a soldier’s jacket. Metal brush of strange and implacable hatred. Even the major. Same would be if soldiers fell on my family in Sligo and cut out our parts. What that old ancient Cromwell come to Ireland he said he would leave nothing alive. Said the Irish were vermin and devils. Clean out the country for good people to step into. Make a paradise. Now we make this American paradise I guess. Guess it be strange so many Irish boys doing this work. Ain’t that the way of the world. No such item as virtuous people.”
The author has a gift with language. It almost masks the brutality. Thomas McNulty is a narrator who is both gripped and numbed by war and survival. The novel builds to a more emotional conclusion, narrowly circumventing some movie-like pathways.
I have not read the other Long Listed novels, save for one I am in the middle of. This novel is far better and is worthy of being Short Listed.