Genre: Historical > Historical Fiction, Glbt, War, Literary Fiction
“Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on forever, all rested and stopped in that moment. Hard to say what I mean by that. You look back at all the endless years when you never had that thought. I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life. And it is not like that now.”
Highly praised, Man Booker nominee that I was dying to get my hands on and very happy that this the first book I inhaled this year. This was a unique take on both in its context and writing. Narrated by Thomas McNulty after escaping Ireland great famine finds himself in US military in the 1850s where a civil war is at its peak. He captures snapshots of his life from meeting the love of his life, his time in the theatre cross-dressing as a woman to the brutality of war against his fellow army folk and the native Indians.
Relatively short the reading experience feels like you are sitting in a bar listening to the main character and that is all thanks to Barry’s rich poetic prose. I was seriously blown away by the way he flows effortlessly, especially the battle scenes, I kid you not I’m usually confused in the hand of many battle scene but in Barry’s words, I was dead set experiencing the gravity of the battle. Let me give you a small taste of his writing
Fire, fire, men, calls our sergeant, and we reload like lunatics and fire.
Powder,ball,ram,cap,cock, and fire. Over and Over, and over Death at his frantic task in the village, gathering souls. We work in our lather of strange sorrow, but utterly revengeful, fiercely so, soldiers of intentful termination, of total annihilation. Nothing less will slake our thirst. Nothing else will fill our hunger. To this story of our dead comrades, we are writing an end on the hot wind of summer
The imagery is breathtaking
This wasn’t just about war and brutality, it was balanced out with a softer side from the genuine relationship between McNulty & John Cole (his partner) and the exploration of the main character’s identity in regards to his fascination with feminity.
A snippet of The Narrator glancing at a woman and being infatuated
It’s strange how close I watch her. But I want to find out something. I want to see how she wears her arms, how she moves her legs, little things no one else gives a damn about maybe. Guess I was fascinated by her. How she held her chin up when she talked. How she flashed her eyes without knowing maybe. Like she had candles in them.
How Barry tapped into his Complexities and showcased the softer feminine side really felt genuine.
It was refreshing to see a topic explored in the time period plus the contrast between the inner & outer battles added depth to the narrative. In a way I wasn’t fully aware of the injustices that took place in this time period and I would really like to explore more native Indian stories and Irish Nationalism and I am thankful that this book Kick-started my drive.
“They say we are creatures raised by God above the animals but any man that has lived knows that’s damned lies.”
I will say one thing that bugged me was in some sections the voice of the narrator switched into this slang that really took me out of the story for awhile. It felt like two different people wrote the book. Apart from that the reading experience is filled with rich landscape description, complex topics regarding war, humanity and identity and fully realised characters in a gruesome time period. I highly recommend it.
Thank you so much for visiting. Happy Reading