Cover Image: Days Without End

Days Without End

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Member Reviews

I was keen to read this, having an Irishman in my close family tree who emigrated to Wyoming in the 1880s and married a Native American. I only hope that he did not witness the atrocities of 30 years earlier as graphically portrayed in this novel.

I found the book's style somewhat difficult to cope with and, together with some of more gruesome elements of the plot, that meant that I did not find it as easy or as pleasant a read as other novels by Sebastian Barry.
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Lovely story with interesting characters.  Loved reading about the historic life in 1850's America and the civil war.  Hauntingly beautiful, this novel will stay with me for a while
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There is not a word out of place in this harrowing and beautiful tale of love, war, duty and sacrifice. ‘Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry deservedly had award success in 2016/2017. I already knew Barry could write about war, having read and loved ‘A Long Long Way’ set in the Great War. What is different about ‘Days Without End’ is the relationship between Thomas McNulty and John Cole. Barry tells the epic story of the Indian and Civil wars in America, combined with a heart-stopping tale of love.
The story is the first person narrative of Thomas, an Irish émigré fleeing the Irish famine. He arrives in a young America with so many disparate groups, contrasted and never seeming to connect: men, women; officers, foot soldiers; gay, straight; white, black; American, Irish immigrant; army, native Indian; north, south. Barry does not shy from telling the reality of the American wars, the brutality, the atrocities of army against Indians and vice versa; but also the comradeship and solidity of men fighting alongside each other. There is betrayal on both sides, brutality on both sides, and soldiers hating and turning on each other. At the core of this though is the story of Thomas and John Cole, who meet as boys and perform a cross-dressing act on stage before signing up for the army. It is not all about war. There are three sections of ordinary life when we see the ordinary life of the two men, finding a role for themselves and fitting into society. 
Much was written at the time this novel was published about how Barry dedicated this book to his son. The portrayal of the men’s relationship is gentle, fond and loving, but the single thing which struck me most was their absolute loyalty to each other.
Full of beautiful prose, plot twists and turns, savage cruelty and betrayal, poignant loyalty at the expense of self, it feels like a slow-moving story but I didn’t want to put it down. Highly recommended.
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First my apologies for the length of time to give feedback on this novel.  I have had some vision issues now sorted with an operation.

This was an astonishing novel: visceral, brutal in places, deeply moving. What an accomplishment for a literary writer to pen ithis narrative in a dialect of an uneducated Irish immigrant. I will admit some of the scenes of battle and massacre of the Native Americans were almost too much for me. 

I did have a small quibble in the opening pages with the mention of the Foxtrot and Charleston dances in a mid-19th Century setting. It was an anachronism that brought me up short. Still a very small issue.

I certainly would recommend though with the caution about the strong violence.
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Another classic from Sebastian Barry, this time forsaking Ireland for the US. Fantastic characterisation, stirring plot and beautiful writing make this a must read.
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despite the nearly constant gloom, the beautiful prose made this a gripping story about the time period before, during and after the American Civil War. Wow!
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“A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. We have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards.”

After fleeing the ravages of The Famine in Ireland, Thomas McNulty and his similarly pre-pubescent best friend John Cole, find themselves employment in a remote prairie tavern, dressing as women to dance with men who haven’t seen a real woman in years. As they grow older this illusion is harder to keep up, and McNulty and Cole sign up for the US army in the 1850s. The young men go on to fight in the ‘Indian wars’ and ultimately the American Civil War, at a time in history where they must keep the sexual side of their relationship secret.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is undeniably beautifully written, and the use of the unreliable narrator creates an ambiguous space that gives a voice to those in history whose stories were cut short. The scenes of genocide are absolutely harrowing, and the evocation of the sprawling American landscapes are incredibly vivid. There is a feverish, dreamlike quality to much of the writing, familiar to fans of Barry’s The Secret Scripture (of which I am one). However, I felt like I was there more for the writing than the story, which never felt cohesive to me. The marriage and raising of Sioux baby Winona strained credibility too far. I know the intention is to say if horrendous genocide could happen, why not this? The sprawling nature of these days without end means that I never found proper resolution – while this is undoubtedly a beautiful literary novel, it is one without a satisfying conclusion.
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This is not a book for me unfortunately, I managed to get 50% of the way through then put it down and was not compelled to return to it.  I do however see why people feel it is so beautiful, the scenic setting was well written and the plot atmospheric I just unfortunately did not connect to the characters.

If I am honest I may not have been in the correct mindset when I read this and I may try and read it again at a later date.
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A beautifully written book and a very sensitive, moving story. Would definitely recommend!
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I love Historical fiction and more and more I am choosing them above my normal choice of genre.

This is a stunning book, 

Shortlisted for 2017 The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. it tells of Thomas McNulty who is in the US Army and travels the plains of America , of the hardships of daily life, is detailed and emotive and I was absolutely amazed and horrified by the tales he tells. 

There is a beauty in the writing and his relationship with John Cole is told simply and you can feel the tenderness between them.

I loved this story and will be reading more by the same author.
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I really, really don't know how I feel about Days Without End even a few weeks after finishing it. I can't undermine a sense of certain beauty and upcoming tragedy this book has but I wouldn't say it's my favourite war account. However, it is much more than just a book about war, isn't it? So I'll just stick with the 3 stars I gave it when I first finished it.
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I had not read any books by Sebastian Barry before, and when I read some of the reviews of this book I realised that the author has been chronicling, in some of his novels, the story of two Irish families. One of the protagonists of this story, and its narrator, Thomas McNulty, is a descendant of one of these families. Rest assured that you don’t need to have read Barry’s other novels to enjoy this one (I didn’t find out about this until I had finished reading it) but now that I know I confess I’d like to see how they all relate to each other.
Thomas is a young boy who ends up in America fleeing the Irish famine and we follow him through his many adventures. Very early on he meets a slightly older boy, John Cole, and they are inseparable throughout the story, or almost. In XIX century America they live through many experiences: they take to the stage dressed as girls to entertain miners (who have no women around); when they are old enough they join the army and fight in the Indian Wars. They later go back to the stage, this time with Thomas playing the girl (a part he enjoys), John her suitor and an Indian girl they’ve adopted, Winona, as their side act. As times get harder, they go back to the army, this time fighting for the North in the Civil War. And… it goes on. 
The book is narrated in the first person by Thomas, who has a very peculiar voice, full of expressions appropriate to the historical era, some Irish terms, colloquialisms, witty and humorous saying, poetic passages and amateur philosophical reflexions. In some ways it reminded me of novels narrated by tricksters or other adventurers (I’ve seen people mention Huckleberry Finn, although the characters and the plot are quite different and so is the language used), but although Thomas is somebody determined to survive and easy-going, he never wishes anybody harm and seems warm and kind-hearted, even if he sometimes ends up doing things he lives to regret. I know some readers don’t enjoy first-person narrations. Whilst it can put you right inside the skin of the character, it also makes it more difficult to get to know other characters and if you don’t like the way a character talks, well, that’s it. Although I really enjoyed Thomas and the use of language, I know it won’t be for everybody, so I recommend checking it out first. Some reviews say that he is too articulate, but although we don’t know all the details of the character’s background, he is clearly literate and corresponds and talks to people from all walks of life through the book (poets, actors, priests, the major and his wife). And he is clearly clever, quick, and a good observer.
Although the story is set in America in mid-XIX century and recounts a number of historical events, these are told from a very special perspective (this is not History with a capital H, but rather an account of what somebody who had to live through and endure situations he had no saying on felt about the events), and I this is not a book I would recommend to readers looking for a historical treatise. Yes, Thomas and John Cole love each other and have a relationship through the whole book and Thomas wears a dress often. There is little made of this and Thomas is better at talking about events and other people than at discussing his own feelings (and that, perhaps, makes the snippets he offers us all the more touching). Although perhaps the historical accuracy of some parts of the story (mostly about the characters’ relationship) stretches the imagination, the descriptions of the battles of the Indian Wars and the Civil War, and especially the way those involved in them felt, are powerful and evocative, horrible and heart-wrenching. There are no true heroes or villains, just people who play their parts as cogs in machines they don’t understand. (There are funny moments like when quite a racist character discovers that he’s fighting in the pro-abolition side. His reason for fighting is because the major he’d fought under in the Indian Wars asked him to. He never thought to ask what the war was about). Thomas reflects at times upon the similarities between what is happening there and what had happened in Ireland and does not miss the irony of the situation. 
I had problems choosing some quotations from the book as I’d highlighted quite a lot of it, but here go:
If you had all your limbs they took you. If you were a one-eyed boy they might take you too even so. The only pay worse than the worst pay in America was army pay. 
We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world.
The bottom was always falling out of something in America far as I could see.
Every little thing she says has grammar in it, she sounds like a bishop.
Things just go on. Lot of life is just like that. I look back over fifty years of life and wonder where the years went. I guess they went like that, without me noticing much. A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that. 
There’s no soldier don’t have a queer little spot in his wretched heart for his enemy, that’s just a fact. Maybe only on account of him being alive in the same place and at the same time and we are all just customers of the same three-card trickster. Well, who knows the truth of it all.
He is as dapper as a mackerel.
How we going to count all the souls to be lost in this war?
Men so sick they are dying of death. Strong men to start that are hard to kill.
Killing hurts the heart and soils the soul.
I loved the story and the characters and I hope to read more novels by Barry in the future. I recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction and westerns, with a big pinch of salt, those who love narrators with a distinctive voice, and fans of Barry. From now on I count myself among them.
Thanks to Faber and Faber and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
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Formal review to come. Will be cross posted on the usual forums (Amazon, BN, Goodreads, and Amazon UK).
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This is a love story, about a couple, friends, caring for a child, getting married, nursing each other, protecting each other. Set in mid-19th century America, wide open landscapes, heat, cold, Indians, civil war.

But,...the couple is Thomas and John.

You might think that this would be a huge issue in pre-modern times, in a military environment, but it isn't. Nobody's too bothered or pays attention, they have other things to worry about. And that provides the space for this relationship to develop and endure and mature. 

While the other characters in the novel don't make a fuss, because they have better things to do, the reader is encouraged to do the same. The nature of Thomas and John's relationship is casually introduced by a simple statement:And then we quietly fucked and then we slept

Days Without End is not about homosexuality or transvestites, it is a love story about two people and their adopted child.
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I requested this book by accident, missed the download and decided to track down my own copy instead - so apologies for a very late review. Can't say it's an easy read, but it is a rewarding one. Grim and painful in parts but thoroughly fascinating and driven by strong emotional prose. Set during and after the American Civil War, Days Without End mixes grim reality and apparent hopelessness with a love story and some memorable characterisation - Thomas McNulty in particular comes across as authentic. Recommended.
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This is an amazing book but far from an easy read. I have read several books lately that cover the period of the American Civil War and this is by far and away the best. Told in the voice of Thomas McNulty it follows his life with John Cole from their coming to America. It is difficult to explain what it is that makes this such a good book but the writing is fabulous  and the characterisation is different.  There is a real emotional vibe to the book
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Love in a time of violence
This remarkable, tender and moving love story spans a time when America was a turbulent, unsettled, violent and unforgiving country, experiencing in a way the painful birth pangs of the great nation it is today.   The story is narrated by Thomas McNulty, orphaned in the great famine in Ireland, who arrives in America in about 1949 as a street-wise stow-away with nothing but the clothes he stands up in and an indomitable spirit.  It is narrated exactly as Thomas would have spoken - one can almost hear the soft Irish accent: “The bugler with his frozen lips sticking to the mouthpiece. Raw with little wounds he don’t have time to give to healing.”
He’d been “only 12 when I lit out a-wandering.”  He bumps – literally – into 13-year-old John Cole, “with the river black eyes and his lean face as sharp as a hunting dog,” also a refugee from society, and the two boys decide to team up “... in the enterprise of continuing survival.”   As Thomas describes it: “We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world.” This is the start of a friendship and a love affair that lasts a lifetime and that spans stints on the stage, tours of duty in the cavalry, the horrendous brutality and cruelty (on both sides) of the Indian Wars, and the equally brutal American Civil War when often Thomas was fighting against his fellow Irishmen.  The book describes the harshness of the winters, the searing heat of the summers, near starvation, sickness, punishment, and betrayal plus just about every hardship one can imagine, but throughout we are aware of the boys’ love and loyalty to each other and of the indomitable will of the human spirit to survive.     
We are not spared the horrors and brutality of the times, but even these are written with a delicacy and sensitivity that is the signature of this beautifully-written book.   There are many deep and thought-provoking moments. For instance on explaining how they could endure the slaughter of battle without flinching, Thomas says: “Because we were nothing ourselves to begin with we knew what to do with nothing, we were at home there.”
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Not for nothing was the author awarded the 2016 Costa Book of the Year award, the first author to have won the award twice. When he started writing the book, his son had just revealed his gay status, and in his speech of acceptance Barry acknowledges him for his courage and for opening his eyes to a way of life that he hopes will in future be as unremarkable and, in a way, accepted, as it is in the story.I was devastated when I finished the book.    
Bennie Bookworm
Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
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Thomas, the narrator of this tale was a young refugee from Ireland who arrived in the United States, where he met John Cole, a few years older than him. The two youngsters make a life for themselves and this life forms the plot of this wonderful story.   The author Sebastian Barry beautifully captures the voice of Thomas as he grows to adulthood via a difficult life.   This is a story with so many layers although at its heart it is an enduring love story.   Much of Thomas's tale is very difficult to read because of the horrors he encounters during his time in the US Army before, during and after the American Civil War but it is a gripping tale which I could not put down as I really cared about Thomas and John and how things would turn out for them.   In addition to these two main characters there are many other wonderful characters as seen through the eyes of and interactions with Thomas.   The book deals with racism both against freed slaves and against the indigenous American population and there are some graphic descriptions of physical violence.   It also deals with love, loyalty and the ties that bind, which are not necessarily straightforward family ties.   A superbly written book that I wholeheartedly recommend.
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Two abandoned children, one escaping the great Irish famine and the other one escaping from undefined horrors, form a life-long partnership. But not the fraternal friendship that would be so dear to the self-righteous, but a true and proper relationship, which acrues with time and through the trials and inhuman difficulties that the two find themselves facing in the times of the American war of secession, where they will fight under the Union flag. Over time Thomas will understand that it is possible for him to reconcile his two natures, the feminine one that pushes him to love John to the point of becoming Thomasina and to contract with him a regular marriage, and to become the adoptive mother of a small Indian girl whose family has been exterminated, and the masculine one that makes him a soldier capable of facing all the hardships and difficultiers of war.
History decidedly out of the ordinary, and yet very plausible, poetic and irresistible.
I thank Faber and Faber Ltd and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.
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Days without End takes us on a journey that mixes true love, grim brutality, enduring loyalty and grinding poverty.
Set in America in the mid-19th century it follows the lives of two young men who meet up and fall in love. Although much of the book involves the harsh world of military life there are moments of genuine humour such as when our two soldiers spend months entertaining hardened miners as a "man and woman" with considerable success! Contrast this with the brutal extermination they inflict whilst in uniform. Under orders they wipe out Indians [men women and children] as well as dozens of Confederate soldiers without seemingly any regret. But, don't be misled, our two young men understand as well as share love and it is this innate gentleness that shall stay with you. excellent authorship at its best.
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