A story without end – a fiction which lives on after the last page, the last word, the closing of the book, is surely what every writer wants to achieve. I’m not sure that I do – although my stories live on with me even after I have finished writing them, the characters continue their imaginary lives.
What has made me think about this is a book I finished last night, well in the early hours of this morning actually. It is ‘ Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry; Barry is an Irish writer who is widely praised for his novels; many of them follow stories of his ancestors the McNultys and the Dunnes – fictionalised versions of family stories. In ‘Days Without End’ the main character Thomas McNulty arrives in the USA having fled the famine in Ireland. He is only a young boy and meets up with another lad and the novel follows their lives, from small towns where they work as dancers – dressed as young women they dance with men in saloons, to joining the army and fighting in both the so-called Indian Wars and the American Civil War.
Barry is an extraordinary writer; I find his novels engaging to the point of compulsive reading, dense, hard, intriguing, beautifully and elegantly written… He tells extraordinary tales through an unusual narrative, piling on image after image (some horrific, some disgusting, painful and beautiful) description after description, shot through with action and adventure.
I’m sure I’ll be thinking of ‘Days Without End’ for a long time; the characters who are quite ordinary really but actually extraordinary in what they endure and achieve, are believable, jumping off the page. The past is vividly – and in the case of this book – often quite disgustingly recreated, no American western type gloss and glamour – there is absolutely no glamour with Thomas McNulty and his lover, his fellow soldiers and his friends and enemies.
For once I can go to my book club without feeling apologetic that I haven’t liked/enjoyed/finished the book. I am interested to know what my fellow clubbers think, and whether they agree that this is a story without end, that Thomas McNulty lives on in our minds?
Here is an interesting article and review from the Guardian – but be warned, it is full of spoilers, so it may be better to read the book first and the article after!
My own stories aren’t in the same league as Barry’s, I’m not a genius, but here is a link to my e-books including my latest, ‘Earthquake’, and my novel ‘Radwinter’: