Day 1211: Days Without End

Cover for Days Without EndI so much enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side when I read it for my Walter Scott Prize project that I was excited to see his Days Without End on the shortlist, too. Again, his protagonist is an Irish immigrant to the U. S., but this time a man, Tom McNulty.

Tom and his best friend, John Cole, enlist in the army sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. Their job in Daggsville has disappeared with the miners. That job, which they have had since they were boys, was to dress up like women and dance with the miners.

Tom and John enjoy the army but have some difficult experiences when their unit is sent west to deal with Native Americans. After some brutal experiences, they leave the army, taking with them a little Native American girl they call Winona. Although she is purportedly their servant, they treat her as a daughter.

Tom and John are lovers, and they have adventures that have raised some skepticism among other bloggers, particularly when Tom goes back to cross dressing to entertain miners in Grand Rapids. Some commenters did not believe this act would be accepted so easily during that time. I’m not sure what I think about that, except that Barry presented it in a convincing way.

In Tom, Barry creates an engaging character, and his descriptions of events, many of them horrific, as Tom and John go from serving in the Indian Wars to the Civil War, is masterful. However, none of the other characters in the novel were fully developed, including John.

This lack, and my doubts about the probabilities of some of the situations in which the pair find themselves lessened my enjoyment in this novel. It is certainly worth reading, but I didn’t like it as much as On Canaan’s Side.

Related Posts

On Canaan’s Side


A Place Called Winter

6 thoughts on “Day 1211: Days Without End

  1. FictionFan May 3, 2018 / 3:18 pm

    This is the only one of his books I’ve read so far and I fall into the category of bloggers who had doubts about the credibility of some of it. So I’m intrigued to hear that you didn’t rate it as highly as On Canaan’s Side – that gives me the motivation to try some of his other stuff in the future. I certainly enjoyed his prose.

    • whatmeread May 3, 2018 / 3:30 pm

      Yes, I like him, and On Canaan’s Side is really good. I think maybe we had some back and forth about this book when you reviewed it.

  2. Helen May 8, 2018 / 2:59 pm

    I have read four of Sebastian Barry’s books and this is the one I liked least. The story and the characters just didn’t interest me as much as in his other books, and I also had doubts about some parts of the plot. His writing is always beautiful, though.

    • whatmeread May 9, 2018 / 10:42 am

      Yes, it is. I have only read two, but I liked the other one better.

  3. Davida Chazan June 2, 2018 / 7:36 am

    I read his Secret Scriptures, but never thought to read any of the others, since they all seem like they’re about all the same people.

    • whatmeread June 2, 2018 / 11:14 am

      Hmm, it didn’t seem like that with the two I read.

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