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Books Editorial

dayswithoutbook.jpg Days Without End
 

Sebastian Barry, Faber

It says much about the peculiar qualities of this novel concerning a cross-dressing homosexual man going about his business in mid-19th century America, that it isn’t really about cross-dressing or homosexuality. Indeed, the protagonist’s homosexuality is only revealed a few chapters in, and that's just though a passing reference: “And then we quietly fucked and then we slept.” The protagonist, and narrator, is Thomas McNulty who finds himself displaced from Ireland, a country shrinking due to famine, and deposited in America, a country in a state of flux with expansionist tendencies. He meets up with another drifter, John Cole, both aged 17, and we follow them as they find work in a local tavern. Later they join the cavalry, become embroiled in skirmishes with the indigenous population, fight in the civil war, and form something of a family unit with an adopted Sioux girl. The prose is lyrical and vivid but measured, the scope epic; and the extremes of emotion are handled with astonishing sensitivity, rendering this both a searing, and tender, work of immense power.