Reviews for Days without End

by Sebastian Barry

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

An unlikely love story between Irish immigrant Thomas McNulty and his younger friend John Cole, this new work is set on the American frontier in the mid 1800s, and its depth and beauty bring to mind the great prairie novels of Willa Cather. Thomas and John meet when they join the army together in 1851, and they soon are sent to fight Native Americans in Missouri. During the course of the novel, they witness massacres, participate in grisly Civil War battles, and end up adopting an orphaned Native girl as their daughter. Thomas is the narrator, and his voice sings from the page in an appealing blend of gritty vernacular, unschooled syntax, and rough-hewn poetry as he bears witness to the awesome beauty of the American landscape and the savagery in the hearts of men. Barry, twice short-listed for the Man Booker Prize (A Long Long Way; The Secret Scripture), offers a meditation on the nature of what it means to be an American, and his conclusions are both complex and fearless. Verdict A beautifully realized historical novel; enthusiastically recommended for all fans of literary fiction.-Patrick Sullivan, -Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* John Cole was my love, all my love, declares young Irish immigrant Thomas McNulty, who tells the story of their lives together in an unlettered but beautifully realized voice that is a tour de force of style and atmosphere. And the stories he tells! Of their joining the army as teenagers in the early 1850s and then, in the West, witnessing the massacre of Indians, of enduring punishing extremes of temperatures on the plains, of being mustered out of the army and then appearing onstage in a minstrel show, Thomas, with his beautiful face, dressed as a woman. Then, soldiers once again, this time in the Civil War, landing in the notorious prison of Andersonville. Then freed, they find a new life together in Tennessee but one that becomes haunted by the possibility of disaster and ruin. Their experiences are extravagant, yes, and, as Thomas says, The mind is a wild liar, but readers know he is telling the truth of the horrors the two witness in the horrible butcher shop of carnage where death is busy at his frantic task. But there are good times, too, as when they marry, unofficially adopt a young Indian girl, and find work on a friend's farm. Theirs is an epic romance, and Thomas' words are eloquent testimony to it. Evocative of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis, Days without End is a timeless work of historical fiction.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2016 Booklist

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A lively, richly detailed story of one slice of the Irish immigrant experience in America.Orphaned in the famine"all that was left in Ireland was the potato for eating and when the potato was lost there was nothing left in old Ireland"Thomas McNulty is fresh off the boat in the U.S. when he finds himself wearing blue, packed off to the West to fight Indians. He's fortunate to have a friend in young John Cole, of a loving if potentially lethal bent. Other of his soldier friends are to varying degrees bloodthirsty, psychotic, or crazy brave, and they work evil on every Indian encampment they find until, sickened by it all, the two soldiers find themselves caring for a young Sioux girl they call Winona. It is perfectly in keeping with McNulty's dark view of a world in which people are angels and devils in equal measure: "I seen killer Irishmen and gentle souls but they're both the same," he reflects, "they both have an awful fire burning inside them, like they were just the carapace of a furnace." Protecting Winona means putting themselves in the path of their comrades, those among whom they have fought from one end of the country to the other against Indians and secessionists. Extending the McNulty saga from books such as The Temporary Gentleman (2014) and The Secret Scripture (2008), Barry writes with a gloomy gloriousness: everyone that crosses his pages is in mortal danger, but there's an elegant beauty even in the most fraught moments ("By Jesus he just drives the knife into the chief's side"). The story is full of casual, spectacular violence, but none of it gratuitous, and with a fine closing moral: everyone will try to kill you in America, but those who don't are your friends, and, as Thomas says, "the ones that don't try to rob me will feed me." A pleasure for fans of Barry and his McNulty stories and a contribution not just to Irish literature in English, but also the literature of the American West. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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. (Jan.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.