Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Long Long Way

By Sebastian Barry.

Long long wayWillie Dunne is an 18-year-old Dubliner who joins up in 1914 and spends the next 4 years simply trying to survive the horrors and brutality of the Western Front.

Back home on leave Willie is confronted by the growing tensions and riots over Irish independence and the role his father, a Dublin policeman, has had to play to quell the riots. An injudicious remark drives a wedge into their relationship that preys on Willie’s mind when he’s back at the front.

And the young woman with whom Willie is deeply, madly in love seems either unable or unwilling to reciprocate in kind leaving Willie to question her commitment and their future together when the war is over.

Barry seamlessly weaves the three storylines into a compelling narrative, a story of courage, duty, honour and love.  It is also brutally descriptive. Whether it’s the first gas attacks at St. Julian in 1915,  the blowing up of Messines Ridge in 1917, or the countless battles and encounters in between, Barry brings the horrors of the front to life so that the reader becomes not so much an observer as a participant, one of Willie Dunne’s mates in the trenches or out in no-mans land. And we share Willie’s confusion, anger, and frustration over his relationship with his father and with Gretta as he tries to understand what is going wrong while enduring yet another tour at the front, standing waist deep in bloody water or waiting for the shelling to stop before going over the top one more time.

Willie despairs of ever going home for good.

“The war would never be over. He had come out for poor Belgium and to protect his three sisters. The tally-sticks of death s would be cut from the saplings for ever more. The generals would count the dead men and mark their victories and defeats and send out more men, more men. For ever more.”

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, this book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the genre of Great War narratives. Highly recommended.

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