Monday 1 January 2018

Days Without End

Happy New Year readers. My resolution this year should be to get my reviews done before I have forgotten why I liked the book, a very bad habit I seem to have acquired over the last few months ...

I started Sebastian Barry's 'Days Without End' months ago, abandoned it because it was a bit slow and then started taking it to work on night shift because I took a proper break and wanted to avoid having to talk to my co-workers (we did get into an unfortunate Brexit discussion which is generally not recommended at work). It is the tale told by Thomas McNulty of his chance meeting with John Cole and how, finding themselves out West in America, they begin to make their living by imitating women in a bar, dancing with the lonely men deprived of female company. As they get older they join the army and are involved in the ongoing brutal campaign against the native 'Indian' population and subsequently the Civil War. The two of them end up adopting a young Indian girl, orphaned by their own actions, and their devotion to each other, and to her, becomes the defining feature of the story. It was a terrible unstinting tale, never trying to gloss over the savagery of warfare. I kept reading through all the death and destruction because his writing just carries your through, and you long for these boys to find some peace. In some ways it is very like 'A Long Long Way', which I loved, in that it captures men in this awful place and time and makes them human despite the inhumanity of both their situation and their actions.

Too many quotes that encapsulate brutality, but this one shows the mundanity of it all:

"Caught-His-Horse-First and his band is pinned up in the barracks as the number one criminal. Sergeant pins the notice up himself. Colonel signs the order. Doesn't take the terror and the sorrow out of it but puts revenge in beside it as a brother. The Pawnee scouts come in eventually but when they can't give a good account for hightailing it the colonel reckons it's as good as desertion and they're shot. The major don't like it and says scouts ain't soldiers proper, you can't shoot them. Apart from that old and useful phrase nahwah which means howdy, no one speaks Pawnee and sign language don't cover this. Indians look puzzled, surprised and offended to be shot but they go to the wall with noble mien I must allow. You can't have nothing good in war without you punishing the guilty, the sergeant says with a savage air and no one says nothing against that. John Cole whispers to me that most times that sergeant he just wrong but just now and then he's right and he's right this time. I guess I'm thinking this is true. We get drunk then and the sergeant is clutching his belly all evening and then everything is blotted out till you awake in the bright early morning needing a piss and then it all floods back into your brain what happened and it makes your heart yelp like a dog." (p.80-1)

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